Scalzi wrote a post today called “A Self-Made Man Looks at How He Made It.” Read it, it’s good. (Spoiler alert: he makes an excellent point that none of us are in fact self-made.)
While my story isn’t identical to his, I did find that my story has a lot in common with his. My father wouldn’t have been alive to conceive me without taxpayer money and while he worked hard most of his life, there were those times when he had to fall back on social welfare programs. The reason there was a roof over my head and food on the table my senior year of high school is because of those programs. And the education I received is very much a result of others’ being willing to provide that funding whether through private scholarships or public programs.
None of us, at the end of the day, exist in a vacuum. I think he was making a point with that post, so he didn’t delve into the flipside of the story, which is that each of us is also responsible for our own life. We can’t get there without the help of others, but we can squander opportunity and miss chances.
And, while I try to stay away from political or emotional issues, this does bring up another issue in my mind. I was able to go to school because people were willing to loan me money. Some of it was government-mandated, but some of it was from private corporations. They didn’t have to lend me that money. They made a bet that I, given my past history and the education I was pursuing, would pay them back.
In the same way that the mortgage lender that made it possible for me to buy a house ten years ago didn’t have to lend me that money. Again, they looked at my job history and my future prospects and they took a chance on me.
It was a calculated risk. Someone gave me over six figures worth of their own money and, as a result, I had an opportunity to achieve an education that would not otherwise be available to me and to live somewhere I couldn’t have otherwise.
I think sometimes in the recent financial fallout this gets missed. We, none of us, have a universal right to other people’s money. No one has to make mortgage loans or issue credit cards or make student loans. They do it as a calculated risk. (Or as part of a social support system.)
And, believe me, I saw some of the uglier sides of the financial crisis, so I’m not excusing anyone for inadequate disclosures or predatory lending. And some financial institutions made loans that were no better than gambling at a casino. That’s wrong. And I’m not excusing it. Hell, I spent a large part of my adult life trying to identify those types of situations and protect average Joe America.
I just worry sometimes that in the current quest for vengeance against the big bad financial corporations that someone like me won’t get the same opportunities today that I did back then. Because who’s going to loan their money out to someone like that knowing that if things go south they’re going to be called names and told they aren’t owed that money after all? Or if they do, what will they need to charge to make the risk worthwhile?
In California right now there are at least three counties that have proposed seizing underwater homes via eminent domain. Great for the people who own those particular homes, perhaps. Maybe good for the real estate markets in the counties in question. Definitely bad for the holders of those loans. (Who may in fact be Joe America’s retirement account.)
And long-term? Perhaps very, very bad for those homeowners. Or for someone like me who didn’t start out with anything at all and needed those loans to get to where I am.
I had the drive, I had the intelligence, but without those loans I wouldn’t have had that degree. Without that degree I wouldn’t have had that job. And without that job I wouldn’t have had that salary that let me have that home and I wouldn’t have built up that work experience that let me get that next degree that I couldn’t have attained without that second round of loans.
It all comes back to those loans. The student loans, the mortgage loans. Even those stupid insta-loans you get in the mail that are at some ridiculously high rate. There was a point in my life where receiving a loan that I had to pay back at almost double the rate made the difference in me continuing down a path toward success and falling off that path. “Protect” people too much by taking away the incentive for those with money to lend it to them and you actually take away their chance to get out of their current situation.
I don’t have the answers. I don’t even pretend to. But sometimes I look around and the lack of balance I see scares me.
Perhaps I’m wrong…I certainly hope I am.