About Me

Ithaca, New York
MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

#15: A Nation of Moochers

A Nation of Moochers: America's Addiction to Getting Something for Nothing, by Charles J. Skyes (New York: St. Martins, 2011)

"Have we reached a tipping point where more Americans depend on the efforts of others than on their own? Are we becoming a nation of moochers?

A Nation of Moochers, Charles J. Sykes argues that we are already very close that point, if we have not already crossed the line. From the corporate bailouts on Wall Street, to enormous pension, health-care, and other entitlement costs, to questionable tax exemptions for businesses and individuals, to the alarming increases in personal default and dependency, the new moocher culture cuts across lines of class, race, and private and public sectors.

A Nation of Moochers explores the shift in America's character as well as the economy. Much of the anger of the current political climate stems from the realization by millions of Americans that they are being forced to pay for the greed-driven problems of other people and corporations; increasingly those who plan and behave sensibly are being asked to bail out the profligate. Sykes's argument is not against compassion or legitimate charity, but distinguishes between definable needs and the moocher culture, in which self-reliance and personal responsibility have given way to mass grasping after entitlements, tax breaks, benefits, bailouts, and other forms of feeding at the public trough.

"Persuasively argued and wryly entertaining,
A Nation of Moochers is a rallying cry for Americans who are tired of playing against the rules and paying for those who don't."

Table of Contents:
Part One: Moocher Nation
Scenes from Moocher Nation
Chapter 1. A Nation of Moochers
A Moocher Checklist
Chapter 2: Have We Reached the Tipping Point?
Moocher's Dilemma

Part Two: The Joys of Dependency
Chapter 3. The Rise of Moocher Nation
Chapter 4. The Joys of Dependency
The Kindness of Strangers (A Moocher Manifesto)
Chapter 5. Addicted to OPM (Other People's Money)
Want --> Need --> Right
Chapter 6. Feed Me

Part Three: At the Trough
I, Piggy Bank
Chapter 7. Harvesting OPN
Moocher's Dilemma II
Chapter 8. Crony Capitalism (Big Business at the Trough)

Chapter 9. The Two Americas

Part Four: Bailout Madness
Lessons in Moral Hazard
Chapter 10. Mortgage Madness
Chapter 11. Bailouts for Idiots (How to Make Out Big by Screwing Up)
Chapter 12. Walk Away from Your Mortgage!
An Interactive Reader's Exercise
Chapter 13. No, They Didn't Learn Anything

Part Five: Middle-Class Suckers
Chapter 14. The Bank of Mom and Dad
Chapter 15. Middle-Class Suckers
Chapter 16. Why Get a Job?
Chapter 17. Mooching Off the Kids

Part Six: What's Fair?
An Abbreviated History of Mooching
Chapter 18. We're All from Starnesville Now
Chapter 19. What's Fair?
Chapter 20. Step Away from the Trough

My Take:
Really mixed feelings about this one. The author has some valid points, especially about the pre-recession craziness that was the housing bubble and the bailout mania that came afterward. Unfortunately, a lot of that was tough to see and appreciate through Sykes' sophomoric style (not sure what the reviewer or jacket blurb writer was reading when calling the style "wryly entertaining," but I found it juvenile and mean-spirited myself) and blatant partisanship. Again, the jacket says the moocher problem cuts across race and class, but a disproportionate share of Skyes' references come from the likes of The Cato Institute, The Heritage Foundation, and even Ayn Rand (who, last I checked, was a novelist with some obvious political axes to grind, and not a political scholar). And it's amazing how often President Obama and his extended family seem to get bashed, while -- even in the chapters on the housing bubble and the bank bailouts -- references to the George W. Bush administration were surprisingly scarce.

In the same vein, I always get a little grumpy when folks try to redefine middle class to include whatever they want it to; Sykes cites a 2009 Forbes magazine story about a single mother who made $120,000 a year and was considering taking a less stressful job that paid half that, because the taxes, loss of financial aid eligibility for her kids, etc. didn't make the higher salary worth the bother. Um, just checked on the Census Bureau's website (yeah, I'm nerdy like that), and median household income in 2010 was $49,445; for family households, it was $61,544. Ya have a job where you make twice that, you're not really middle class. Just sayin'.

Would be interested to read a more balanced treatment of these issues and exploration of how the complicated mess of government benefits and entitlements we have may affect our culture, but this book wasn't it.

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