guilty pleasure monday: this land is your land (woody guthrie)

oh, the subversive little song they taught us at school!

apparently, i am not the only one in the world who can only take so much of kate smith warbling G-d Bless America. legendary man of the people woody guthrie was absolutely annoyed by the never-ending airplay of this (admittedly classic) song and took matters in his own hands, writing this land is your land in 1940.  most grade school kids can recite the first verse in their sleep; i remember we had to learn a verse or two more in my day. there are, of course, two verses often omitted, thanks to some sort of printing mistake in 1945 (so THAT’S what they called it back then… i smell conspiracy!)

the first:

As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said “No Trespassing.”
But on the other side it didn’t say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.

you stick it to the private property man, woody! that stanza has a grandchild:

and then, there’s this:

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.
In the squares of the city, In the shadow of a steeple;
By the relief office, I’d seen my people.
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking,
Is this land made for you and me?

wow. they never taught us those ones in school.

those latter lyrics about hungry people give me pause.  so many people today have lost their homes, their jobs, their standard of living. many more are in danger of doing so. i’d say that most americans historically looked at it as a sort of us or them situation; being poor was something other people did, and they did so because they were lazy. i’ve never felt that way, of course; but now, i think plenty of other people who are in that boat are realizing that it often has little to do with your motivation and a lot to do with economic realities.

for starters, you shouldn’t buy a home if you can’t afford to do so. programs that let unqualified home buyers go out and buy homes anyway were a gamble that eventually made everyone in this country a loser.  do i think these unqualified home buyers ought to be homeless? of course not. but i’m sure more unscrupulous people made some of the iffy-er economic entanglements too good to resist.  i remember when BS and i were looking to purchase our home. we had saved and tried to live within our means for a long time; and when some real estate agents dangled some absurdly dazzling numbers in front of our eyes regarding how much home we could afford, we dug in our heels and said no. we had done our own calculations, and we had a number with which we were comfortable. we knew we couldn’t go higher.

clearly, not everyone was able to do that.

and wall street clearly needs some better rules and even better enforcement of them. completely stealing from the other 98%:

  • Consumer Protection: Create an independent agency to protect consumers, not bankers. A strong Consumer Financial Protection Agency must be independent of Wall Street and other federal agencies, such as the Federal Reserve.
  • Rational Risks: Stop banks from taking excessive risks with your money.
  • National Economic Security: End “Too Big Too Fail” by setting limits on how big a bank can be, which will end our current system where the five largest banks control more than half of the nation’s deposits. You can help by supporting small, community banks at home
  • Disarm Financial Weapons of Mass Destruction: Stop Wall Street from taking advantage of families with defective products like subprime mortgages.
  • Market Transparency: Make banks disclose what they are betting our money on by making exchanges open and fully transparent, and by forcing big banks and credit card companies to offer clear terms consumers.
  • Accountability: End taxpayer bailouts and force banks to clean up their own mess.

i couldn’t have said it better myself. thanks, guys.

but it still gives me pause. where did our common sense go? if something seems too good to be true, then it probably is; so why did so many americans fall for so much of this smoke and mirrors game?

i wish woody guthrie were here to walk across this land today. i wonder what he’d think?

4 thoughts on “guilty pleasure monday: this land is your land (woody guthrie)

  1. Well, let me speak up for the “bought more house than they should have” crowd since it seems like everyone else who writes about this oh so smugly insists that they sure did not.

    I’m actually somewhere in between. I know full well I got into a house that I had no business getting into. But it was a calculated risk on my part. I had never owned my own place. Renting had become a nightmare. I’d had one situation already when the owner decided on a whim that he needed to move in & I was kicked out within 6 weeks of school starting. That resulted in me taking the first available place I could which ended up being $250 more per month in rent. So anyhow, I was quite desperate to get out of that. If you go by what were probably your very conservative standards, I either should not have bought at all, or maybe should have bought a 2 bedroom condo. That was impossible with two boys 11 years apart. So I took advantage of one of those cut rate variable thought fixed the first 2 years interest only loans. Two years later I refinanced out of it into a somewhat less risky but still not traditional 10 year fixed rate interest only loan. That gives me another 5 years to pay off all other debt & be ready to either refi again, or switch to paying traditional P&I which I should be able to do. I’m blessed with an extremely secure job with modest salary increases each year of 3-5% But, also, in 5 years the boys should be gone. Well, one at least! If I have to move, I can downsize easily. Was this a financial stretch for me? Heck yeah. I do have some equity in the house. Not much, but some. And I didn’t keep piling on the loans after I bought it so even with values dipping in the last couple of years I am no where near upside down. I’ve never had trouble making my payments.
    Even with my eyes opened though, I must say that those lenders back in 2003 were very very convincing! I think it would have been extremely easy for anyone who didn’t know any better to sign on. I was just thinking that I had those financial formulas on debt/equity ratio taught to me in college. In a specific finance class for my accounting degree that certainly not everyone would have to take. What if you didn’t? What if you just didn’t have a brain for finances? Of course you trusted your banker! Plus, all your peers were jumping in feet first. It was a wave of home buying. It was security from the hassles of renting. It was an investment because *everyones* houses were appreciating every year, at astronomical rates even. I completely understand how it happened. I’m lucky and I know it.

  2. christina, i totally appreciate your perspective. for every person like you who actually thought about her financial situation before taking the mortgage plunge, though, there are plenty who just sort of thought “what the hell” when housing/banking industry folks dangled absurdly attractive financial packages in front of them. i can understand having two kids why two bedrooms might not work. but you still have thought things through and didn’t go crazy buying the biggest house on the planet. i get that.

    what i don’t understand are so many of my countrymen who think they MUST own a mcmansion, even if they don’t have the wherewithall to pay for it. we have become an uber consumeristic society — you must drink cristal, you must drive an escalade, you must have a house the size of cleveland…etc… and people from the housing/financial industry just used that to their full advantage. there are plenty of people who got stuck, and i feel badly about the ones who get screwed no matter how hard they try. but i also have a hard time feeling sorry for anyone who went way overboard. life is unpredictable — you can lose your job or your health. and while you can’t plan for every eventuality, you can live within your means to help soften the blow — sometimes (i also understand monumental and overwhelming health bills. yes, i do. and sometimes, nothing can soften that.) i just have seen too many examples of people who didn’t do that, and now, somehow, i am supposed to foot that bill for the people who went financially rogue? hmmm…

  3. Well, I am certainly surrounded by a lot of those mcmansions & over consumers 😉 Take one look at what passes for TV and I think you see why people think that’s the way to behave. I also haven’t made a car payment in over 10 years so I suppose while I haven’t been perfectly conservative in my financial planning, I have also not been a big time consumer hog either.

    Ah, it’s so complex!

    When corporations are left unregulated (see, banks & oil companies for starters), they get greedy & hurt people & the economy. When people are allowed to borrow in an unregulated manner (essentially the lenders removed all the traditional rules) they get greedy too. Is it human nature to keep grabbing for more whether its a corporation or an individual? Seems to be!

    If we bail out the banks – which we did – then I think it’s harsh not to help out the individuals who rode the greed train with them.

  4. I’m in a position I never thought I’d be in. I worked all my adult life until four years ago. I had ample savings and retirement accounts. We bought a house that was very modest: bungalow in inner-ring suburb, just over 1,000 square feet. We did take out a second mortgage to make some sound improvements to increase the resale value of the property. We’ve always been frugal and thrifty. But … we both are picking up after our main industries crashed: media and automotive. There is little work out there to even approach what we made before. Our mortgage is under water due to the second loan. We are slowly digging out from the position of not qualifying for much help because of being self-employed. I’m still not sure what we did wrong. Our savings are gone, having supported us for the last 18 months. Unless we can modify our mortgage, we take a total loss on the house. I don’t think I’ll be in any hurry to buy another house, even if and when we ever qualify again. I never thought we lived extravagantly or beyond our means but we never thought our industries would topple so quickly, either.

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