Which <i>Sex </i>Was Most Responsible For The Mortgage Meltdown?
August 15, 2009, 04:20 PM
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Christopher Caldwell, author of Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West has a pretty good essay in Time Magazine called "The Pink Recovery:"
One thing that seems bound to change is the relationship between the sexes. Since the recession began in December 2007, the vast majority of the lost jobs have belonged to men. ...

A lot of people see that as fitting punishment. There weren't any women among the high-profile malefactors in last fall's financial meltdown. Maleness has become a synonym for insufficient attentiveness to risk. ...

In Foreign Policy this summer, journalist Reihan Salam predicted that the "macho men's club called finance capitalism" would not survive the present economic ordeal.... Of course, nobody harped on this research back when housing prices were doubling and people were using their home-equity credit lines to buy third cars. But to paraphrase Richard Nixon's comment about Keynesians, we are all feminists now.

Okay, but, consider that at the base of the financial crash were people, typically couples, taking out home mortgages that they couldn't afford, mostly to either buy homes (generally sold to them by female real estate agents) they couldn't afford or to do home improvements they couldn't afford.

In the typical couple who has defaulted, which sex — husband or wife — on average do you think was more ardent for the granite countertop upgrade? Was it husbands or wives who tended to insist most on buying the larger house with the exercise room and enough space for relatives to stay over and the extra big dining room for hosting dinner parties?

Caldwell gently satirizes the conventional wisdom:

Although clich?©s about the "vulnerability" of women in the economy have been disproved by hard BLS data, we want to believe them. When women lose jobs, the victims are women. When men lose jobs, the victims are, um, women, because they have to make up for that lost male income.
Then, Caldwell goes on to illustrate one reason why he writes for Time Magazine and I don't:
Should we expect men to cede some control over an economy they have so thoroughly messed up? No. We have no examples of that ever having happened. What we have plenty of examples of—you can see variants of it all over the developing world—is economies in which women do all the arduous work while men sit around smoking and pontificating in coffeehouses and barbershops. For decades, policymakers have been attentive to the flaws of a patriarchal, middle-class, single-earner, nuclear-family-oriented model of family economics—and their attention remains fixed on it. Whether or not that model dominated American society as much as its critics claimed, we are now leaving it behind. Maybe there is a humane model that can replace it. We have not found one yet.
Good point.

Still, the reason Caldwell writes for Time and I don't is that if I were to write:

What we have plenty of examples of—you can see variants of it all over the developing world—is economies in which women do all the arduous work while men sit around smoking and pontificating in coffeehouses and barbershops.
Rather than gesture vaguely at "the developing world," I would actually then give an example. In fact, I would pick the best example: i.e., the largest region of the world where men are most inclined to have their womenfolk do most of what work gets done.

Caldwell's way is dull, not very informative, and potentially misleading to the handful of readers who actually stop and wonder what he means: Is he talking about, say, China? China is definitely developing. So, I guess he's talking about China. Do men not work very hard in China? I didn't know that. I guess men must not work very hard in China or it wouldn't say that in Time Magazine. You learn something new every day!

Now, you know and I know what part of the "developing" world Caldwell is primarily talking about here, and why it's relevant to America. (The reference to "barbershops" is a clue.) He's referring to Henry Harpending 101. But Caldwell has the good sense to keep his point misty and abstract-sounding so that few people will have much of an idea what he's talking about. Nicholas Wade, the NYT's genetics reporter, will get it, but Morris Dees of the $PLC hopefully won't.