Thursday, September 15, 2011
Who's to blame for this one?
Empire is/was a "company town" in northwestern Nevada - now numbering about five souls, it once was a reasonably lively place, whose inhabitants were employees of US Gypsum. They worked at the local gypsum mine, now sporting a shiny perimeter fence around the white mounds of excavated product, ostensibly to keep out those enterprising gypsum thieves. The factory supplied wallboard to construction sites all over the US, but mostly to the booming Las Vegas area. When the housing crash arrived, it hit southern Nevada harder than most. Demand for USG's products dried up and blew away. The people working for the firm occupied company-owned homes leased to them cheaply, and of couse with no factory, their homes were taken away, along with their jobs. Several score jobs doesn't sound like that many, but it has a huge impact in a sparsely populated state like Nevada, and with an overall terrible scarcity of work in that state, people have had to uproot themselves and drift pretty far to find a steady paycheck.
Who can we blame for the demise of this town? People would love to point a finger at George W Bush or Barack Obama, but there were a lot of cooks brewing up this disaster. How about the banks that disastrously lowered their lending standards? Borrowers whose stomachs knotted even as they smiled
and signed on the dotted line, knowing they couldn't really sustain the payments? Or how about Alan Greenspan and his successors, who've likely kept interest rates lower than they should have? Or the various investment houses who bought and sold securitized mortgates, creating a byzantine chain of loan ownership and very little accountability? Or US Gypsum itself, which let a town die rather than find a way to save some of those jobs until demand for their product picks up?
It's human nature to find a figurehead to bury in the sand and hurl cabbages at, but in reality there are many, many contributors to our most difficult problems, and we certainly don't do ourselves any favors by singling out one guilty party while letting the rest go scot free.