Pur Autre Vie

I'm not wrong, I'm just an asshole

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Not Ideas About Blogging But the Thing Itself

Bloggers piss me off sometimes. I think what gets me the most is the overconfidence and certitude. Bob Rubin wrote that he has met people who are more sure about everything than he is about anything. I find myself in the same boat quite often.

Take thisvalue-laden post from Megan McArdle. Her basic argument is that walking away from a non-recourse mortgage is morally wrong. The context is that house prices have dropped significantly since a lot of these loans were made. If a loan is non-recourse, then you can end all your obligations by handing over the house. This makes economic sense if the outstanding balance on the mortgage exceeds the value of the house by a large enough margin. However, whether or not it makes sense to walk away, McArdle thinks it's morally wrong, in that the borrower isn't paying the debt in full.

Bear in mind, there do exist recourse loans. The ability to walk away from a non-recourse loan isn't some loophole sprung upon the unsuspecting lenders. Also, Megan makes an exception for people who declare bankruptcy. However, nothing in the Bankruptcy Code prevents debtors from repaying their debts after they have emerged from bankruptcy protection, and the Bankruptcy Code does not purport to discharge the moral, as opposed to legal, obligation to repay debts.

As the bankruptcy example shows, it is easy to complicate the question. If the moral obligation to repay debts is absolute, then should borrowers never take advantage of, say, the lender's failure to act within the statute of limitations? If I'm morally required to fulfill my contractual promises, where does that leave the concept of efficient breach?

These are normative questions, so they are inherently bullshit. But you can engage the difficult points, the full implications of your position, instead of giving a tendentious example and picking on the other side's weak points. It all just feels very college-y, and particularly college debate-y. Unfortunately, that seems to be a big part of what it means to be bloggy.

And yes, I've been known to engage in the occasional obnoxious debate tactic. Normativity is dead people, get over it.


Anonymous Carcass Sunstein said...

"[T]he Bankruptcy Code does not purport to discharge the moral, as opposed to legal, obligation to repay debts."

Actually, there's a Circuit split about this.

12:33 AM  
Blogger Grobstein said...

Yes, that's amazingly silly and college-debatey. Was McArdle a college debater? It really is sad that the post makes no attempt to grapple with the terms of a non-recourse mortgage.

12:35 AM  
Blogger Alan said...

Totally agree. Have only read a handful of McArdle posts because I haven't been impressed. This one sort of reminds me of one that Potapov shared in which she lists a bunch of offhand propositions to illustrate her "politics." Some are moderately interesting and indicative of reasonableness (the end to which I assume she is aspiring), but others are annoyingly superficial and certain, such as: "I think that speaking of one culture as 'better' than another is a meaningless statement. Culture gives you the preferences by which you evaluate it." And: "I think that we have a moral obligation to, as the bumper sticker says, be the change we want." Obviously her post isn't a philosophy paper, but these are too glib. Ironically, she also included: "I think things are usually more complicated than they look." And: "I think the knowledge that you might be wrong is the most valuable asset a human being can have." Guess she's still learning.

By the way, yes, normativity is dead in a meaningful sense, but normative argument/philosophy/whatever you want to call it is useful in some ways, such as the way in which you used it here to show that the big M's thesis is devoid of content.

12:54 AM  
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3:01 AM  
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3:23 AM  

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