T Nation

Middle Class Anarchy


The Coming Middle-Class Anarchy

by Gonzalo Lira

True story: A retired couple I know, Brian and Ilsa, own a home in the Southwest. Itâ??s a pretty house, right on the manicured golf course of their gated community (theyâ??re crazy about golf).

The only problem is, they bought the house near the top of the market in 2005, and now find themselves underwater.

Theyâ??ve never missed a mortgage payment â?? Brian and Ilsa are the kind upright, not to say uptight 60-ish white semi-upper-middle-class couple who follow every rule, fill out every form, comply with every norm. In short, they are the backbone of America.

Even after the Global Financial Crisis had seriously hurt their retirement nest egg â?? and therefore their monthly income â?? and even fully aware that they would probably not live to see their house regain the value it has lost since they bought it, they kept up the mortgage payments. The idea of them strategically defaulting is as absurd as them sprouting wings.

When HAMP â?? the Home Affordable Modification Program â?? was unveiled, they applied, because they qualified: Every single one of the conditions applied to them, so there was no question that they would be approved â?? at least in theory.

Applying for HAMP was quite a struggle: Go here, go there, talk to this person, that person, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. â??Itâ??s like they didnâ??t want us to qualify,â?? Ilsa told me, as she recounted their mind-numbing travails.

It was a months-long struggle â?? but finally, they were approved for HAMP: Their mortgage period was extended, and the interest rate was lowered. Even though their home was still underwater, and even though they still owed the same principal to their bank, Brian and Ilsa were very happy: Their mortgage payments had gone down by 40%. This was equivalent to about 15% of their retirement income. So of course they were happy.

However, three months later, out of the blue, they got a letter from their bank, Wells Fargo: It said that, after further review, Brian and Ilsa had in fact not qualified for HAMP. Therefore, their mortgage would go back to the old rate. Not only that, they now owed the difference for the three months when they had paid the lowered mortgage â?? and to add insult to injury, they were assessed a â??penalty for non-paymentâ??.

Brian and Ilsa were furious â?? a fury which soon turned to dour depression: They tried contacting Wells Fargo, to straighten this out. Of course, they were given the run-around once again.

They kept insisting that they qualified â?? they qualified! But of course, that didnâ??t help at all â?? like a football, they were punted around the inner working of the Mortgage Mess, with no answers and no accountability.

Finally, exhausted, Brian and Ilsa sat down, looked at the last letter â?? which had no signature, and no contact name or number â?? and wondered what to do.

On television, the news was talking about â??robo-signaturesâ?? and â??foreclosure millsâ??, and rank illegalities â?? illegalities which it seemed everyone was getting away with. To top it off, foreclosures have been suspended by the largest of the banks for 90 days â?? which to Brian and Ilsa meant that people who werenâ??t paying their mortgages got to live rent free for another quarter, while they were being squeezed out of a stimulus program that had been designed â?? tailor made â?? precisely for them.

Brian and Ilsa are salt-of-the-earth people: They put four kids through college, they always paid their taxes. The last time Brian broke the law was in 1998: An illegal U-turn on a suburban street.

â??Weâ??ve done everything right, weâ??ve always paid on time, and this program is supposed to help us,â?? said Brian. â??We follow the rules â?? but people who bought homes they couldnâ??t afford get to squat in those McMansions rent free. It would have been smarter if weâ??d been crooks.â??

Now, up to this point, this is just another sob story of the Mortgage Mess â?? and as sob stories go, up to this point, itâ??s no big deal.

But hereâ??s where the story gets ominous â?? hereâ??s where the Jaws soundtrack kicks in:

Brian and Ilsa â?? the nice upper-middle-class retired couple, who always follow the rules, and never ever break the law â?? who donâ??t even cheat on their golf scores â?? even when theyâ??re playing alone (â??Because if you cheat at golf, youâ??re only cheating yourselfâ??) â?? have decided to give their bank the middle finger.

They have essentially said, Fuckit.

They havenâ??t defaulted â?? not yet. Theyâ??re paying the lower mortgage rate. That theyâ??re making payments is because of Brian: He is insisting that they pay something â?? Ilsa is of the opinion that they should forget about paying the mortgage at all.

â??We follow the rules, and look where thatâ??s gotten us?â?? she says, furious and depressed. â??Nowhere. They run us around, like lab rats in a cage. This HAMP business was supposed to help us. I bet the bank went along with the program for three months, so that they could tell the government that they had complied â?? and when the government got off their backs, they turned around and raised the mortgage back up again!â??

â??And charged us a penalty,â?? Brian chimes in. The non-payment penalty was only $84 â?? but it might as well been $84 million, for all the outrage they feel. â??A penalty for non-payment!â??

Nevertheless, Brian is insisting that they continue paying the mortgage â?? albeit the lower monthly payment â?? because heâ??s still under the atavistic sway of his law-abiding-ness.

But Ilsa is quietly, constantly insisting that they stop paying the mortgage altogether: â??Everybody else is doing it â?? so why shouldnâ??t we?â??

A terrible sentence, when a law-abiding citizen speaks it: Everybody else is doing it â?? so why donâ??t we?

Iâ??m like Wayne Gretsky: I donâ??t concern myself with where the puck has been â?? I look for where the puck is going to be.

Right now, people are having a little hissy-fit over the robo-signing scandal, and the double-booking scandal (where the same mortgage was signed over to two different bonds), and the little fights between junior tranches and senior tranches and the servicer, in the MBS mess.

But none of that shit is important.

Whatâ??s really important is Brian and Ilsa: Whatâ??s really important is that law-abiding middle-class citizens are deciding that playing by the rules is nothing but a suckerâ??s game.

Just like the poker player whoâ??s been fleeced by all the other players, and gets one mean attitude once he finally wakes up to the con? Iâ??m betting that more and more of the solid American middle-class will begin saying what Brian and Ilsa said: Fuckit.

Fuck the rules. Fuck playing the game the banksters want you to play. Fuck being the good citizen. Fuck filling out every form, fuck paying every tax. Fuck the government, fuck the banks who own them. Fuck the free-loaders, living rent-free while we pay. Fuck the legal process, a game which only works if youâ??ve got the money to pay for the parasite lawyers. Fuck being a chump. Fuck being a stooge. Fuck trying to do the right thing â?? what good does that get you? What good is coming your way?


When the backbone of a country starts thinking that laws and rules are not worth following, itâ??s just a hop, skip and a jump to anarchy.

TV has given us the illusion that anarchy is people rioting in the streets, smashing car windows and looting every store in sight. But thereâ??s also the polite, quiet, far deadlier anarchy of the core citizenry â?? the upright citizenry â?? throwing in the towel and deciding itâ??s just not worth it anymore.

If a big enough proportion of the populace â?? not even a majority, just a largish chunk â?? decides that itâ??s just not worth following the rules anymore, then that societyâ??s days are numbered: Not even a police-state with an armed Marine at every corner with Shoot-to-Kill orders can stop such middle-class anarchy.

Brian and Ilsa are such anarchists â?? grey-haired, well-dressed, golf-loving, well-to-do, exceedingly polite anarchists: But anarchists nevertheless. They are not important, or powerful, or influential: They are average â?? thatâ??s why theyâ??re so deadly: Their numbers are millions. And they are slowly, painfully coming to the conclusion that itâ??s just not worth it anymore.

Once enough of these J. Crew Anarchists decide they no longer give a fuck, itâ??s over for America â?? because they are America.

October 9, 2010

Gonzalo Lira (Dartmouth '95) is a writer, filmmaker, venture capitalist and economic commentator. He has lived throughout the United States and Latin America, and currently resides in Santiago, Chile.





Things gonna get a lot worse...lotta mo'

"After last week saw an insider selling to buying ratio of 1,411 to 1, this week the ratio has nearly doubled, hitting a ridiculous 2,341 to 1. And while Wall Street's liars and CNBC's clowns will have you throw all your money into "leading" techs like Oracle and Google, insiders in these names sold a combined $200 million in stock in the last week alone (following Oracle insider sales of $223 million in the prior week). Insiders can. not. wait. to. get. out. fast. enough. This Fed-induced rally is nothing short of a godsend for each and every corporate executive. But yes, there may be value: there was insider buying in 2 (two) companies last week: General Dynamics and Best Buy, for a whopping total of $177,064. At the same time sales were a total of $414 million: so is anyone wondering why JPMorgan is reopening its gold vault... Anyone left holding the bag on this market when the FRBNY props are taken away, will be left with the same return as all those investors who entrusted their money with Madoff. Guaranteed.



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Is the fact that many people walk away from their mortgages wrong?

Is it wrong that a state at least requires passive cooperation from its citizenry?


So your point was?


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The Daily Show caught wind of this incredible hypocrisy. John Courson with The Mortgage Bankers Association publicly scrutinized homeowners strategically defaulting on their mortgages. Shortly thereafter the MBA purposefully defaulted on their $170 million headquaters. "Do what I say, not what I do." They aren't playing by the rules. Why should everyone else? Mortgage loans are a joke and the fractional reserve banking system that they revolve around is even more dubious.


I'm suprised this thread isn't more popular or understood.
The point of this and importance is not whether or not their fault is wrong.
It is that the bread and butter of the obedient US tax base, and family unit that groby the grooms their kids to abide in the systme...now believes the government to be corrupt and interest of perverse powers.

At this piont this means the Gov't is basically losing all legitimacy, and attempts at 'decorrupting' it will be unsuccessful because faith has been lost. This is a precursor to a complete over through or disestablishment,




People understand what the article is saying, they just think the source is so suspect that they find it unworthy of comment and find the logic strained.


American Self-Loathing

We are once again in the silly season when small-Government proponents strive desperately to move to Washington and incumbents pretend to be outsiders. Anti-Washington sentiment is waxing as we build to the mid-term elections, with everyone promising to tilt at the windmills of federal spending, and no-one suggesting how any substantial cuts might be effected.

We love to blame Washington and its politicians, but our hatred of D.C. is really only a projected form of self-loathing. Washington is simultaneously the locus of our fears and our expectations: we want to be left alone, but we want to be taken care of. We want government out of our lives, but we want it to solve our problems. We insist on more local solutions, but grow immediately impatient when solutions are not immediate. We look with fear and longing on our President--no matter whom--as the one we despise and the one we adulate.

Consider a few sentences from this Sunday's Washington Post, reflecting on some of the most recent polling data (giving rise to conclusions that sound like an old, familiar song):

[b]Americans have a more negative view of government today than they did a decade ago, or even a few years ago. Most say it focuses on the wrong things and lack confidence that it can solve big domestic problems; this general anti-Washington sentiment is helping to fuel a potential Republican takeover of Congress next month.[/b]

Cue the Tea Party. At least until we consider some particulars:

[i][b]But ask people what they expect the government to do for themselves and their families, and a more complicated picture emerges.

A new study by The Washington Post, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University shows that most Americans who say they want more limited government also call Social Security and Medicare "very important." They want Washington to be involved in schools and to help reduce poverty. Nearly half want the government to maintain a role in regulating health care.[/i][/b]

In other words, we want government to be out of our lives--and that it solve most of the problems we face as a society. We lack trust in its ability to do so, but have plenty of umbrage to display when we perceive any lack of government efforts on our behalves. Networks switch instantaneously between segments on "The Fleecing of America" and sanctimonious tut-tutting when a fallen swallow lacks a government program.

So, we now careen between the two parties, the one promising to solve our problems, the other promising to get Government out of our lives. We love and hate them both: two years ago we longed for a savior to deliver us from Bush's incompetence and put the nation back on the footing of hope and change; today we fear socialism and long for morning in America.

Our hatred of Washington is a hatred of ourselves, above all for our contradictory longings that we refuse to face. We pine for a time of accountability and responsibility, but fear the burdens of sacrifice and self-government. We ache for a government that can make America great again, and suspect that any effort in that direction will further impoverish subsequent generations. We long to be self-sufficient, but fear a world without safety nets.

Anti-Washington fever will rise to dizzying heights in coming days. The chattering classes will conclude that Americans have a firm idea of their destiny, choosing one party over another in coming days. Few will understand that the source of our loathing will be the division within ourselves. The divided government we will embrace is the division in our souls: two versions of democracy. In the one version, democracy is rugged individualism. In the other, democracy is a gentler concern that no one should be left behind. Both are fantasies born of bad modern anthropology. Our country oscillates between two fantasies of democracy--a downward spiral that is self-perpetuating and mutually reinforcing. The election is no more than a radar blip in the erosion of self-government. The more deeply we hate ourselves, the louder our denunciation of Washington will resound. The din of self-loathing will soon be deafening.


damn sloth I am starting to like:O

I have either caught the gey or you are starting to make sence haha..


Just to make sure it's clear...those aren't my words, heh. But yeah, that's an accusation I rarely have leveled my way. "Making sense," that is.


ok, but I guess you agree with the guy who wrote that wall of text you posted.

but lately you have posted pure wisdom in some treads. I thougt you where a conservativist the american way, but you have sounded more like a leftliberal with a grasp of reality latly.


Yes, I agree with him. I'm a cultural conservative with unapologetically traditional mores. I simply think all this talk about anti-welfare state capitalism this, and constitution that, is wasted on a population that can't govern itself. I don't really say much about socialism anymore, because it's coming into existence isn't a real possibility here. It'll always be a relatively free-market pulling along a sizeable nanny state. Redistribution, not socialism, nor laissez faire capitalism, is the American Way.


I agree, in regards to how things look today socialism will not happen in the nearest future in either america or europa. In europa the market have gained in strenght since the 80`s and its allready a tough enough challenge to reverse the destruction of the welfare state( in other words, the europeen socialist have been reduced to the watchmen of socialiliberalism ). Eu have been one of the strongest element in this marketliberalist warfare against the welfarestate. but if socialism becomes reality it will probably happen in europa first because our labormovements( unions and partys ) are much stronger than they are in usa. aslong as your unions and you labor partys are so weak and demonised as today, socialism have no chance in america. pure freemarket capitalism will also not happen because its to farfetch from reality. so as you say, socialliberalism is the most realistic way to go for know.
but since I am a leftradical wackjob I hope the american labormovements gain strenght and change the political paradigm in your country.

regards the sceptism of the federal government: I can actually understand this wiew, because I dont want brussel to rule me. I dont want eu. So a debate about more indipendence to the states in usa would be natural from my point of wiew. I dont think you have to be an libertarian to have this position. the individual states could still be welfare states.

rant over.


Sons of Anarchy...yeah.


A big and yet lean bureaucracy?

And you seriously believe that this is even an option?


Yep. At some point the can won't be able to simply be kicked down the road. The crises will be too immediate to put off. The public, more willing to take cuts in their programs than the complete collapse of them if nothing is done, will begin making demands on their candidates. Wanting to stretch every service dollar, public employees will have to get real or find themselves without a program to even work for.

Right now the public, and the public unions, are still resistant. 'Cutting some waste' is about as far it goes. Completely and inarguably stupid, that. However, this game of kick the can down the road is eventually going to run out of road.

The public doesn't want real cuts in their programs for the sake of small government. Most certainly not to 'phase 'em out.' But, they will, eventually, demand cuts to preserve such programs, making them solvent for the foreseeable future. At that point, neither party would dare to touch benefits (such a party would be doomed) until after they've cut costs (pensions and wages) to better resemble private sector counterparts.

Bailouts? We haven't seen anything yet. Wait until the states begin lining up for bailouts.


Well, public choice theory says you are wrong.

The bigger a bureaucracy gets, the less oversight you have, the stronger the influence of lobbying groups, including public service unions, gets, the more people in the public service area can vote as a block, the more cushy jobs there are for retiring politicians and so further and so on.