One of the things that has been nagging at me is the increasing difficulty of having meaningful discussions about important topics with anything other than like-minded people. Americans increasingly treat their views, be they on Iraq, global warming, civil liberties, or other Big Topics of the Day, as articles of faith rather than positions they are arrived at with some thought and study. So if you differ with their beliefs, instead of getting a reasoned response, or a polite, “let’s agree to disagree,” one instead is too often met with anger, which is often a sign that they can’t defend their views logically. As I’ve noted before, this make it well-nigh impossible to have policy discussions across political lines, find common ground, and reach compromises.
This may seem a trivial example, but what struck me was that the venom seemed entirely out of proportion to the trigger. From Elizabeth Warren at Credit Slips:
Last Tuesday I published an Op-Ed in the Boston Globe about mortgage companies that pay brokers to sell higher priced mortgages to customers. (E.g., a customer qualifies for a 6% mortgage, but the mortgage company pays the broker a higher fee to sell him a 7% mortgage.) I called the payments “bribes” paid by the mortgage companies to the brokers to boost mutual profits at the expense of the homeowner. I was in good company. The Vice-President of the Fannie Mae Foundation called them “kickbacks.” After the op-ed was published, I was flooded with hate mail. It was so bad that when there was no let up by the end of the third day, I thought I might have to change my email address.
Some of it was funny (“your stupid”), weird (“I thank God my son went to BU instead of Harvard”), or silly (“you must be a Communist”). But most of the correspondence fell into three main buckets:
This never happens; you are making this up
This happens sometimes, but it is a few-bad-apples problem
We all do this; it’s how we make money…
What I find particularly disturbing about the all the vitriol is that what Warren was describing is something that can be verified factually. This isn’t a matter of interpretation on her part. Either lenders provide incentives to brokers or not, either they do it in significant amounts or not. It’s fair to challenge someone’s data, but to demonize them because the findings just because they don’t sound right to you is nutty. And there appears to be a lot of nuts out there. Scary.