In Virtuous Default: The Foreclosure Crisis and the New Moral Geography of Blame in the United States
Popular and political bickering over who is responsible for the US housing market collapse reflects a new moral geography in which “financially distressed” borrowers, implicitly coded as black or latino and urban, are viewed as innocent, non-agentive, “victims” of predatory lending, in contrast to strategic defaulters,” typically coded as white and suburban, who are seen as morally corrupt because they model their behavior after the amoral banks that recklessly pursued mortgage securitization schemes. In this formulation, those who unsentimentally treat their home as a pure commodity, as a bank would, are viewed as less virtuous than those who do not. Although this disrupts the standard tropes about race, class, innocence, deservedness and geography with which we are all too familiar, it nonetheless masks important distinctions — such as the difference between a bank and a person — that are essential in any proper popular and political reckoning about the collapse of the housing market. Far from being the same old story about the triumph of neoliberalism, I emphasizes instead the role of political contingencies and complex political forces, including Wall Street bankers, Tea Partiers, liberal policy makers and the Obama Administration, whose moral framings of the foreclosure crisis established new, but not necessarily liberatory, relationships between persons, property and geographical space.
Jeff Maskovsky teaches urban studies at Queens College and anthropology at the Graduate Center, CUNY. His research and writing focus on poverty, grassroots activism and political economic change in the United States.