Sharing the blame

After listening to most of today’s Midmorning interview with New York Times economics reporter Edmund Andrews, the biggest question isn’t “how can an economics reporter for the New York Times be so clueless when it comes to assuming a mortgage.” The real question is “how can someone so financially clueless get a gig as an economics reporter for the New York Times?”

Give Kerri Miller credit for being tough on Andrews, who has written a book on how he fell into “a catastrophic binge on overpriced real estate and reckless mortgages. ”

How could it have happened?

“The answer to that question takes you into the financial system and the recklessness that pervaded the financial system over the last few years,” he said.

Well, maybe, but we also learned during a fabulous interview that Andrews never made any calculations on his $400,000 mortgage; a serious dereliction of duty by a homeowner even if the lender never asked for proof he could afford it. He also admitted he let the house become critical in his mind to making his second marriage work. Understandable, perhaps, but unbelievably ignorant.

It wasn’t until well into the hour that Andrews strayed from his insistence — which, for the record, has plenty of validity — that the fault for his problems lay with mortgage-lending practices. “It was a stupid loan that never should’ve been taken and never should have been made,” he said.

The meltdown in the nation’s economy — the meltdown that’s taken hundreds of thousands of jobs from hard-working people — clearly has its foundation in the lending practices of financial institutions. But there’s also plenty of blame for people who couldn’t be bothered “running the numbers” for the biggest purchase of their lives. Andrews is proof of that.

“In spite of people making poor decisions, it never happened in the past… because the mortgage lender wouldn’t have let them,” a Realtor called in to say. Clearly true. But if there’s no one to save us from ourselves, who can we turn to besides… ourselves?

“Human beings make good decisions and bad decisions all the time, but there’s nothing we’ve ever seen before where millions and millions of borrowers went over the cliff at the same time, ” Andrews said. True, perhaps, but Andrews makes it entirely too easy to blame the victim. And that’s the tragedy here. That people who did their due diligence and lost homes because of lender fraud, won’t be able to get past the “how can you be so stupid?” questions that people like Andrews make all too easy to ask.

“There’s no one out there who’s as financially literate as you are,” Miller said near the end of the show.

On that, she couldn’t have been more incorrect.