Tunnel Vision

Many years ago, when my sister and her husband were married a few years, they talked to their tax adviser about how to save money on their taxes. At the time, they were living in an apartment. Naturally, the tax adviser said, "Buy a house." He most likely offered that advice strictly as a tax professional, without asking any other questions. If a couple renting a place to live went to almost any tax professional or CPA, the advice would probably be the same: "Buy a house." That's because from a tax perspective, it makes sense according to the tax laws in the United States as mortgage payments on a primary residence are deductible from income, which in turn lowers taxes. (This may not be true in some places in the world.)

Now, my sister and brother-in-law did not immediately slap themselves on the forehead and say, "Man, we should have thought of that ourselves," run out the door, and immediately head for the nearest bank to qualify for a mortgage, and then go make an offer on the very first house they saw for sale (or even one not for sale). If we think about it for a bit, we would all agree that other factors would need to be taken into consideration. First, and perhaps most obvious, did they even want to live in a house of their own? Do they want the responsibility of maintaining a house, cutting the grass or having to get someone to do it for them, fixing a leaky roof, patching holes in a fence, and so on? Could they find a decent house at a price they could afford? Did they have enough money for mortgage payments while still leaving a reasonable amount for healthy recreation and entertainment?

In fact, most people would probably just nod and tell the tax advisor, "Yes, we know about that, and it probably isn't a terrible idea-- thanks for the tip." Then they would talk to many other people and get advice from other perspectives. They might talk to their parents and family, clergyman, friends, a lawyer, perhaps a psychologist-- maybe even a medical doctor. (One who is planning on cutting the grass himself might want to know if he has a healthy heart or allergies that handling freshly cut grass will exacerbate.) Then they would consider their own philosophy and goals in life, and only then would they make a carefully considered decision, and even then it might be mitigated or attenuated somewhat. Even though they could get a huge mortgage deduction by buying a $1,000,000 house, they may decide that they can't afford quite that much house and look in the $300,000 range. They may decide that they don't have the money right away, but after they pay off their car in a year, they could more seriously consider a house, or they might decide that they need a bit of a budget for recreation to stay sane and mentally healthy.

In the end, my sister and her husband did go buy a house-- but they considered all the factors before doing so. They looked at the entire picture before making a rash decision based solely on the advice of a tax adviser-- who only gives tax advice. He doesn't care if a client likes cutting grass or if he wants space between the back window and the neighbors, or if being able to call the super to fix a leaky pipe or frayed electrical wire has some advantages; he's just going to do what tax advisers do and say, "Buy a house."

Now, where are we today? Well, we have done the equivalent of racing out to buy the first available house with the largest mortgage we can qualify to get, just because a tax adviser said so! We have placed our future entirely in the hands of the government, which in turn is relying solely on the so-called experts in the medical field, who are giving strictly medical advice-- what doctors do-- and who in many cases are making predictions based on incomplete and specious evidence that isn't even as reliable as the information our tax adviser uses to make his recommendations. At least the tax adviser knows for a fact that one who purchases a primary residence will qualify for a tax deduction-- that is guaranteed. The promises our medical "experts" have made are no more guaranteed than what Clocker Louie at the local horse race track makes when he touts the sure thing that he just knows is going to win the fourth race today.

It's long past time that we started looking at the whole picture and got rid of the blinkers that are blinding us to a myriad of other valid considerations that are also important. It's time our public officials started consulting many different types of people to combine many different perspectives to form a rational plan instead of the irrational nonsense that has been imposed on us by public officials who are concerned only about looking "tough on coronavirus" and have basically ceded their authority to "experts" whose advice has been mostly a failure thus far. It's time we started saying "NO!" to the irresponsible, reckless extremism that has characterized the government's response to what is admittedly a somewhat significant problem-- or are we just a nation of mindless $2 bettors who bet whatever Clocker Louie says to bet, even though he hasn't picked a winner in weeks?

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