Tuesday, November 24, 2009

I Read It So You Don't Have To (WSJ version)

Today’s big WSJ headline – nearly one-fourth of all US homeowners are ‘underwater’ on their mortgages. That is, nearly 25% of American homeowners owe more on their home than it is worth.

I remember when 10% underwater seemed high!

One such homeowner, a police officer no less, “argues the best government strategy would be to reduce the principal due on mortgages to reflect current market values. ‘You keep waiting and hoping that the government is going to step in and offer some relief.’”

Really? Best for whom?

A bit more detail…According to the story, about four years ago, this homeowner put $130K down on a house they paid $650K for. Today, the home is valued at around $400K. Indeed, if they’d stuck with their original mortgage, they’d be underwater by about $120K (or 30% of its current value). That would have sucked, and would have been largely driven by forces outside their control.

But that’s not all. In the last four years, the homeowner took out a second mortgage “to help pay for their daughter’s college costs, home improvements and a wedding…” Now, instead of having a mortgage of $520K or less (the original mortgage), he owes $647K.

And he hopes the government will step in and lower his mortgage principal, essentially asking that the taxpayers and/or the banks fund his daughter’s education, a wedding and home improvements. Why the hell not?

There’s two pretty weird letters in the Journal today. One is funny, in an “if it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger” kind of way. Dr. William Burk, from Greenville SC, writes about germ-phobic medical professionals:
“As a retired anesthesiologist many years removed from the principles surrounding disease transmission, I nonetheless feel compelled to comment on neckties ("Nothing to Sneeze At: Doctors' Neckties Seen as Flu Risk," page one, Nov. 19)…Give me a break. I don't see any former colleagues falling dead from cervico-facial MRSA and they wear the damn things all day. The mere culturing of organisms doesn't establish linkage to transmission. If there are suspected Tie-phoid Martys out there who will send me their neckties, I'll volunteer to rub them on my nose.

One can get things practicing medicine. In my youth, I contracted Hepatitis B during a time when I was frequently sticking myself with needles containing the blood of jaundiced patients. There's probably a link there. In recent years, though, an intense paranoia seems to be pervasive among medical personnel. One cannot touch another human being without donning gloves. This is nonsense. In many years of cannulating tens of thousands of blood vessels and treating massive trauma from Cu Chi, Vietnam, to the Carolinas, I have countless times been "washed in the blood," and my skin has been up to the task of protecting me."
Yikes. I’m not agreeing or disagreeing with him! I’m just sayin’.

But the second letter takes the cake. It’s an argument against allowing skilled immigrants to compete for US jobs in science and technology. Why? Because seeing these smart and hardworking foreigners in such jobs is discouraging to Americans leading them to choose work in other fields:

“The analysis by Stuart Anderson, mentioned in your editorial, is based solely on the selfish and nearsighted economic benefit we receive from these talented people but ignores their effects on our own dysfunctional educational system. I am sure Mr. Anderson would expect his children's schools to emphasize science and mathematics in their curriculum so their students could obtain jobs in science, engineering and biotechnology, but children are not so easily influenced. When they see the scientific and technical jobs going to legal foreign immigrants, they get the idea that it will take exceptionally hard work to compete with the world's brightest, best and most competitive, and they (wisely) choose other career paths and carry on the vicious cycle of poor scientific and technical education leading to the need for more immigrant workers.”
So the problem is that Americans are lazy and lack confidence? And the way to restore a work ethic and confidence is to exclude foreign workers from high-skill jobs? Seriously?

Maybe he's pulling my leg.

I am reminded of a conversation I frequently have with undergraduates. I say, “You want to do forensics in law enforcement. You should take a chemistry class.” They say, “Nah. I don’t like chemistry. It's too hard.” Or I say, “Why haven’t you competed your Math Core course yet.” They say, “I don’t like math.”

And I think, “That’s it. You don’t like it. Yet you think that all your dreams will come true while you simultaneously avoid anything that seems difficult to you?”

How, I wonder, can we compete against the world – a hungry, ambitious, hard-working world – with that attitude at the heart of too many college students.

Bring on the immigrant labor, if you ask me. May the fittest—smartest, hardest working, most ambitious, least whiny—win.