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Thursday, February 07, 2008 2:45 PM

Moral Obligations Of Walking Away

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Walking away is certainly a hot topic. I brought up the issue of walking away on October 2nd 2007 in Mortgage Forgiveness Act - The Seen and Unseen.

The winner in the debt forgiveness provision (if there is a winner) is the struggling homeowner. The unseen loser is the mortgage holder, the NAR and the NAHB. Prior to this legislation a homeowner had to worry about tax liabilities of just handing over the keys and walking away. If debt was forgiven prior to bankruptcy, there was also a tax liability. Such considerations have been removed. At the margin, more people will be tempted than before to hand over the keys and walk away.
Walking away has recently been making the news quite frequently. 60 Minutes did a segment on walking away that I discussed in 60 Minutes Legitimizes Walking Away. Professor Depew explored homeowner decisions in A Business Decision, point number 3 of the January 28th edition of "Five Things".

Ironically, there is now a business called You Walk Away. I discussed the business model of You Walk Away in The Business of Walking Away.

Yesterday, CNN Money was discussing Walking Away, and I picked up on it in Debt Trap Mass Exodus. Here is a small excerpt of my personal thoughts.
If You're Going To Walk, Walk Sooner

Those deep underwater and electing to walk away are simply making a rational decision. For anyone who is going to walk away eventually, they may as well do it sooner rather than later.

There is nothing amoral about walking away no matter what anyone says. The law allows walking away, just as the law allowed banks to ignore the risks and lend to those it should not have.
Are moral obligations an issue?

Avalon writes: "Mish, I'm very disappointed that you don't think people are morally obligated to try to honor their agreements. Just because it's legal doesn't make it right."

Let's explore the issue of moral obligation with a series of questions.
  • Where was the moral obligation of those willing to lend money to someone who they knew could not possibly afford the house?
  • Where was the moral obligation of those willing to lend money to someone when the lender did not care how overpriced the home was?
  • Where was the moral obligation of those willing to lend money to someone when the lender explicitly knew how overpriced the home was?
  • What are the moral obligations homeowners to provide for their family the best legal means they can?
  • Suppose someone could "afford" to make payments but at the expense of say health insurance or better schools? What's the moral obligation on that person?
  • Does moral obligation only run in one direction?
  • Should someone have a moral obligation if he signs a contract with a thief?
National Referendum On Walking Away

Most don't realize it but there is currently a national referendum on walking away that is page one news every single day. I am talking about decision 2008, the presidential election.

Will we walk away from Iraq or not?
  • A vote for John McCain is a vote for the status quo of wasting trillions more dollars and countless more lives in Iraq.
  • A Vote for Obama is a vote for exiting that hellhole and having discussions with Iran.
  • A vote for Hillary Clinton is a vote for wishy washiness, political expediency, and the same stubborn unwillingness to admit mistakes that we see in Bush.
For the record, I voted for none of the above in the primary. I voted for Ron Paul. But like it or not, barring some sort of miracle one of the above is going to win the presidency.

The moral obligations of walking away from Iraq
  • Do we have a moral obligation to spend money in Iraq after we blew it to smithereens?
  • Do we have a moral obligation to admit mistakes and stop wasting lives of soldiers?
  • Do we have a moral obligation to repair the decaying infrastructure of the US instead of attempting to be the world's policeman?
  • Do we have a moral obligation to the Citizens of the US to get out of the region, given that being in the region dramatically escalates the risk of terrorism against the US?
  • Do we have a moral obligation to stop wasting billions of dollars in jet fuel flying needless missions all over the world when crude oil prices are so high?
  • Is there a moral obligation to let Europe and Japan defend themselves rather than depending on US overseas bases and US taxpayer dollars to defend them?
  • Is there a moral obligation for the US to walks away from Europe and Japan with so many suffering here?
A discussion of moral obligations in terms of walking away is not as easy as it might have seemed at first glance. There are many questions but no consensus answers. That’s because moral obligations of walking away go far beyond signing on the dotted line. Where people "draw the line" on walking away is going to play a major role in determining the next president of the United States.

Mike "Mish" Shedlock
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