In his analysis of the housing market’s crash of 2008, Frank keeps discussing the irresponsible lenders and traders who caused the crash. He is absolutely right in that their actions deserve to be investigated and condemned. However, Frank avoids the discussion of the other side of the equation, namely, the irresponsible borrowers. Unless we recognize that the Tea Partiers express a legitimate grievance of many against those who borrowed huge amounts of money they had no hope of repaying, there will be no opportunity to address the economic and political situation in this country in any productive way. When a very well-paid professional whose job it is to analyze finance drives himself into bankruptcy by irresponsible borrowing just because he needed to feel “gangsta”, can we really condemn those who work hard and try to live debt-free for feeling outraged?
The irresponsible lending goes on. In my neighborhood it definitely does and it horrifies me to imagine into what fresh round of drama this will lead us. But my neighborhood bank would not have been able to hand out the record number of zero-downpayment mortgages last month, had there not been people willing to snap up these loans. “The Bad Neighbor Doctrine” of the Tea Partiers that Frank condemns makes a lot of sense to me, a passionate Liberal.
If anything, Frank’s Pity the Billionaire made me feel an unexpected affinity with the Tea Partiers. He works hard to refute any accusation of racism and religious fanaticism that might be directed at the Tea Party. According to Frank, a regular Tea Partier is an educated, polite, blog-reading and blog-writing fan of Ayn Rand who believes that small businesses are the backbone of the economy and who deeply respects the entrepreneurial spirit of the Americans. Does this description remind you of anybody? Right you are, Frank’s typical Tea Partier is . . . me. There has got to be something wrong with the kind of analysis that does not distinguish between ultra-Liberal Progressives like myself and the followers of Glenn Beck.
The part of the book that I found the most disturbing is Frank’s profound and inexplicable hatred of small-business owners. According to Frank, they are so bogged down in their puny little concerns that the larger picture always eludes them. Small-business owners, Frank suggests, contribute nothing of value to the economy while, politically, they represent very regressive forces for the simple reason that they are too stupid to understand any complex phenomenon.
I am one of those ignoramuses who believe that small businesses (and, of course, small business loans) are, indeed, crucial to any healthy economy. What’s more, my barbarity is such that I see the American entrepreneurial spirit as not only unique but also profoundly admirable. Probably this is why I didn’t like Thomas Frank’s new book at all.