For a Page One story in today's New York Times, the paper asked real-estate analytics firm CoreLogic to compile data on delinquent homeowners, and found that one in seven with loans in excess of a million dollars is delinquent. These are not particularly large or shocking numbers, especially considering the high prices homes soared to during the boom, but never mind that — the figures are enough of a jumping-off point for demonizing the Great Recession's favorite bugaboos: The nameless, faceless "Rich." The Rich are different from the rest of us, the Times reports, not just materially, but on the inside. "The rich are different: they are more ruthless," a senior economist from CoreLogic tells the paper. And no, it's not just people who have been paid by the paper who think this way.
The writers also point to a recent column from Freddie Mac executive vice-president, Don Bisenius, in which he attempted to shame homeowners out of walking away from their mortgages by saying they were "trashing their communities." The Rich, as it turns out, do not care about anyone other than themselves.
The CoreLogic data suggest that the rich do not seem to have concerns about the civic good uppermost in their mind, especially when it comes to investment and second homes. Nor do they appear to be particularly worried about being sued by their lender or frozen out of future loans by Fannie Mae, possible consequences of default. The rich and successful often come naturally to this sort of attitude, said Brent T. White, a law professor at the University of Arizona who has studied strategic defaults.
"They may be less susceptible to the shame and fear-mongering used by the government and the mortgage banking industry to keep underwater homeowners from acting in their financial best interest," Mr. White said.
As you might imagine, after that, the Times was dying to talk to a rich person, to ask them questions like "How does it feel to be on the side of darkness?" and "Do you read T magazine? But after trawling Los Altos, a tony suburb of Silicon Valley where several million-dollar-plus homes have been foreclosed upon, the only rich people they could find were one couple who weren't so rich anymore: They owed the bank $1.3 million, had lost their jobs, and were moving back in with their parents, and were (maybe) too ashamed to give the paper their names. Turns out, when they don't have any money, "the Rich" aren't so different from the rest of us after all.