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America is complicated

"A government crusade to promote homeownership is un-American," write Yaron Brook and Don Watkins. "America’s distinction is that it was the first nation founded on the principle that you have a right to pursue your own happiness without government interference." Izzat so? Will Wilkinson is not convinced:

Say what? Government programs to promote homeownership are American as flag-flavored eagle pie. The first clue is that there are so many goddamn subsidies for homeownership in democratic America. The second clue is that these subsidies are so goddamn popular with Americans, probably because American culture really does relentlessly assault Americans with the American idea that owning an American house is an essential American part of the best and most authentic American way of American living.

Like Will, I'm not a big fan of argumentum ad un-Americanum. America is a country where the strongest opposition to universal health care comes from seniors who are worried it will harm their single-payer health-care system. I could use that as grist for a column on how America hews to a uniquely individualistic , almost Randian notion of socialism, but the better takeaway is that America is complicated and we should stick to policy argument rather than philosophical projection.

By Ezra Klein  |  August 30, 2010; 9:43 AM ET
 
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Comments

'The Pursuit of Happiness' back then meant buying property.

Posted by: AMviennaVA | August 30, 2010 10:48 AM | Report abuse

In early America, pre-Jacksonian history, people who did not own property were not allowed to vote in many places--only property owners were considered to have a stake in the community. Even now, part of the heavy bias in home ownership measures is due only in part to the real estate lobby, but partly to the ingrained belief that property owners have skin in the game in the way renters do not.

Posted by: ciocia1 | August 30, 2010 11:05 AM | Report abuse

I want to read that article on American Randian Socialism.

Posted by: MosBen | August 30, 2010 12:32 PM | Report abuse

“America’s distinction is that it was the first nation founded on the principle that you have a right to pursue your own happiness without government interference.”

And Willkinson’s argument against this is what people TODAY believe? Watkins and Brook are explicitly talking about the essential principles operative at the time of, and behind the creation of, America, the things that made it different from all other nations in the most important ways. Yes, the country and its people have departed significantly from the ideals of 230 years ago, so subsidies for home ownership are very “21st century American.” That's the problem Watkins and Brook are warning us of.

Posted by: MarkWickens | August 30, 2010 1:11 PM | Report abuse

American Randian Socialism:
"Keep government out of my Medicare!"
"They want to turn Social Security into a government program!"
"Unlike those lazy ******s, *I* deserve that unemployment check."

In short, it's variations of people who get upset at the notion that the government might benefit someone other than themselves. It's only socialism when other people are involved.

Or even shorter: "F*** you, I've got mine."

Posted by: lol-lol | August 30, 2010 6:15 PM | Report abuse

See also: "Government spending in other districts is wasteful; government spending in my district is a necessary constitutional function."

Posted by: lol-lol | August 30, 2010 6:47 PM | Report abuse

"but the better takeaway is that America is complicated and we should stick to policy argument rather than philosophical projection."

Riight. Let's ignore concepts and focus on range-of-the-moment concretes. Looks like the Comprachicos did their work on Mr. Klein.

Posted by: cmbbroker | August 30, 2010 7:59 PM | Report abuse

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