Letters

Summer 2009
Homeowner Havoc

To the editor:
This is the best article I have read on the origins of the current financial crisis [Steven Malanga, “Obsessive Housing Disorder,” Spring 2009]. I was aware of the problematic nature of relaxing credit standards and also of the recent congressional meddling with Fannie and Freddie. What makes your article so informative is the recounting of history on the subject and your recognition that the “dream” of universal homeownership has no economic basis.

Next you should take on the other current absurd and unfounded assumption: “Everyone should have a college education.” I expect that attempts to implement this will have equally devastating outcomes not just to the economy, but to the inflated expectations of many young people.

Alan Hanson
Goldens Bridge, NY

To the editor:
An excellent article except for the last paragraph. Your grasp of some of the root causes of the housing debacle is right on target. I do believe you should rethink your position on the mortgage-expense cap, however. There are two main faults in your argument. First: the IRS accounts for the fact that all expenses that are deductible are blended into the “standard” deduction that some people choose to take in lieu of itemizing their deductions. The standard deduction is not arbitrary: it takes into account all reasonable and customary expenses. Second: for those with large mortgage interest who choose to itemize, the Alternative Minimum Tax automatically levels the playing field and disallows all expenses over a threshold. This is now having a significant impact on most mod­erate/middle-income levels. I am shocked that an everyday Joe like me knows this while Edward Glaeser and Joseph Gyourko, noted professors from Harvard and Wharton, miss these fundamental nuances of our bloated tax code.

The irony is that you make a solid case for stopping government meddling in the rate of homeownership, but then out of nowhere, you propose that the tax code assist and coax the same folks who cannot afford a home into buying one.

J. W. Schnabel
Roseland, NJ

Steven Malanga replies:
I doubt that Professors Glaeser and Gyourko are unaware of the Alternative Minimum Tax. Mr. Schnabel overestimates the impact of the AMT when he writes that it “levels the playing field” between high earners and everyone else and hence makes eliminating the mortgage-interest deduction unnecessary. Hardly.

While I believe that the AMT is an unfair tax that falls on many people whom it was never meant to affect, Congress has allowed the AMT’s impact to take effect gradually, thereby lessening some of the pain. About 3 percent of all households that file taxes pay at least some additional tax because of the AMT, but not all of their deductions disappear imme­diately. The tax’s burden typically starts falling most heavily on those with adjusted gross incomes of $250,000 or more.

Glaeser and Gyourko are not alone in their suggestion that we end the mortgage-interest deduction. As the Tax Foundation points out, “Despite the political popularity of the tax deduction for home mortgage interest, economists are basically united in their opposition to it. What’s the economic case against it? Simple: by giving a tax subsidy to housing, it distorts investment decisions toward houses and away from assets like factories and equipment that are more productive at the margin.”

Modernist Vandals

To the editor:
I find myself in the odd position of agreeing with most of what Roger Scruton says about the value of modernist art, and yet disagreeing with his moral vision [“Beauty and Desecration,” Spring 2009]. Scruton seems unaware that Mozart did not truly accept the morality he promoted. This gap between public and private belief was essential to morality as it existed in the past. People were torn by that moral world: disgusted by hypocrisy, riven by self-loathing, and yet ultimately unable to deny the facts of their true moral beliefs.

Today we live in a period of crisis, in which some people are trying to move through the prevailing vulgarity toward a new morality that does not rest on absurdities. This is difficult and the result uncertain. Others are hoping that we can whisk ourselves back into the past (which wasn’t as wonderful as their imaginations conjure up). Take your pick.

Jon Monroe
Ellsworth, ME

To the editor:
I agreed with much of what Roger Scruton had to say on the modern aversion to beauty. However, is there not something to say for the idea that perhaps this “rebellion” against beauty, crude though it is, is a necessary step to something better? It may be true that art should aim for beauty, but to have a single aesthetic idea reign supreme from 1750 to 1930 must grow stale, however true. Artists say they aim for beauty but they no longer know what beauty is, and so they only aim for the kind of beauty that others aimed for. Perhaps postmodernism will lead ultimately to a reevaluation of beauty. If so, that must be a good thing.

David Michael
London, England

Crucibles

To the editor:
As a retired barrister and colleague of Sir William Macpherson, it pains me, but I agree with Theodore Dalrymple’s criticisms of the Lawrence inquiry [“A Modern Witch Trial,” Spring 2009]. In recent years, there has been an increase in the natural tendency of commissioners, as members of the establishment, to follow the line the government expects an inquiry to take. It is the clear duty of those chosen to lead such inquiries to resist the instinct to follow the herd, especially since the administration has the power to tempt by the general prospect of favors. Of course, the pool from which commissioners are chosen is not congested with the independent-minded.

John Beveridge
London, England

It Beats Breaking Rocks

To the editor:
Could it be that one of the reasons that women are getting into design fields [Kay Hymowitz, “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Businesswoman,” Spring 2009] is because the pay is so low? No offense, but speaking as a man, I can say that earning enough to support a family is an important consideration, while for a woman, well . . . as Tim Allen said: “Women now have choices. They can be married, not married, have a job, not have a job, be married with children, unmarried with children. Men have the same choice we’ve always had: work or prison.”

Jon Jackson
Albany, GA

Pedagogy of the Absent

To the editor:
Perhaps the situation is not as dire as Sol Stern supposes [“Pedagogy of the Oppressor,” Spring 2009]. Over the past decade, I have taught U.S. history, government, and debate, attended a school of education, participated in curriculum exchanges with other school districts, developed curriculum for my school district, and graded AP tests with teachers of U.S. and comparative government. I never was assigned the offending Paolo Freire book in teacher-training classes, never heard of it prior to reading this article, and, furthermore, have never heard other teachers discuss the ideas Stern describes.

I agree with the author that we need major changes in our system of public education. In my experience, however, Paolo Freire is not one of the bigger problems that we face.

Matt Allen
Idaho Falls, ID