Hardly a day goes by during this housing crisis that the media does not report on families in foreclosure proceedings, or in arrears in repayment on mortgages that had close to zero down payment requirements and low "teaser" interest rates. The many excuses offered by some home owners for their plight, and also eagerly by the authors of these human interest stories, is that the borrowers did not understand that these introductory interest rates might rise a lot after a few years, or that they would have negative equity in their homes if housing prices stopped rising and began to fall. An obvious alternative explanation for their behavior is that they gambled that the good times would continue indefinitely.
This type of response to failed decisions is not unique to the present housing crisis, but is part of a strong trend toward shifting responsibility to others. Women who sign a pre-nuptial agreement specifying the amount of their husband's pre-marital wealth that would be theirs in the event of divorce often try to have the agreements overthrown in divorce litigation. They claim that they did not understand what the agreements meant, or that their husbands took advantage of them in other ways to get them to sign the agreements. Usually they signed simply because that was the only way they could marry the men they very much wanted to marry, perhaps in part because the men were wealthy.
Many criminals who confess to or are convicted of serious crimes try to have the courts excuse or mitigate their behavior. They allege that they had uncaring or abusive parents, or that fathers, relatives, stepfathers, or other adults molested them as children. Abusive treatment is awful, but still the vast majority of children abused do become law-abiding and responsible adults. That is a major fact that courts should pay attention to.
Successful attempts to shift the responsibility for bad decisions toward others and to society more generally create a "moral hazard" in behavior. If individuals are not held accountable for decisions and actions that harm themselves or others, they have less incentive to act responsibly in the first place since they will escape some or all of the bad consequences of their actions.
Posted by John Ray. For a daily critique of Leftist activities, see DISSECTING LEFTISM. For a daily survey of Australian politics, see AUSTRALIAN POLITICS Also, don't forget your summary of Obama news and commentary at OBAMA WATCH