Robert Stein 1924-2014

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Friday, February 20, 2009

A World That Won't Be Coming Back

For generations of Americans today, retirement will never be the same as that of their parents and grandparents.

The President's costly, complicated and inescapably necessary plan to save millions of homes recalls a discussion only a few years ago among recently retired professional people.

Most were financing their later years not so much by savings from substantial earnings or market investments but profits from increasingly larger homes they had bought or built for their growing families over decades and now no longer needed.

The conventional wisdom held that real estate was the only sure investment and for more than half a century after World War II, it was--more than safe, in most cases wildly profitable.

Growing up with a Depression kid's mentality, I refused in the 1960s to go into debt to buy a beachfront vacation home for $30,000 that, by the turn of the new century. was worth more than $3 million. But others did and prospered.

Now, all that appreciation has been sucked out of the economy, with little prospect of returning for decades to come.

Taxpayers will be bailing out overreaching home owners, greedy banks and speculators who milked the cash cow dry for immediate gratification and set off a downward spiral in the entire economy.

In the it-only-hurts-when-I-laugh category, former Sen. Phil Gramm, John McCain's economic adviser, explains to Wall Street Journal readers today that it wasn't the deregulation he sponsored that started the costly mess but the "politicization of the mortgage market."

Gramm, the OpEd piece notes, is now vice chairman of UBS Investment Bank, which this week admitted conspiring to defraud the IRS and agreed to pay $780 million for helping US citizens hide money in Swiss bank accounts. It's safe to say that Gramm won't have any trouble financing his retirement.

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