I found this neat academic article that puts a lot of things in perspective on the very high end of the residential real estate market. Two economists prepared the paper that shows convincing evidence of the correlation between the decline in stock prices of the top 500 US companies and the value of the principal residences purchased by their CEO’s. The more valuable the house, the worse the stick performed in the years following. Why? The good professors conclude that CEO’s have become complacent with their positions and no longer have the financial incentives to take on new risks (ans potential growth). For the most part these modern day Taj Mahals are paid for with the proceeds of stock sales. On this theory, I guess you want to look for the CEO that still lives at home with Mom and Dad. Why do American have such large houses? Look at other developed countries like Japan, Germany and England for examples of efficient housing stock. People in these countries, for the most part, buy houses that are in step with their family size and needs. We know the US government wants to encourage home ownership, the IRS gives us tax breaks for interest paid on mortgages, we can get homestead protection from our creditors and the “American Dream” is often defined as having that big house in the suburbs. I think the US government has a more insidious plan for its citizens. A plan that large corporate interests can support. A plan the banks can really get their arms around. What’s the plan? The US government wants it citizens to have bigger and bigger houses so we can buy more stuff. That’s right, your American Dream is actually a big box in which to put all your consumer purchases. Look around, how much space do you really need to live comfortably? How big a car do you need to get around town? When was the last time you delayed the purchase of an item instead of using your credit card? Something’s got to give along way here. I would propose a theory to go along with CEO theory – that when all consumers buy the biggest houses that they can afford, park an SUV the size of a tank in the driveway and run full tilt on the credit card treadmill that the economy as a whole is on course for failure. Not to mention the environment, the balance of trade, our cultural values, etc. I am not proposing that we move into caves, but maybe we could look a little more closely at what we want and what we need.
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