Subprime and the Commodification of Women’s Bodies

Does the free market corrode moral character? We’ve already seen the role of sex in the wreck of royalty-collection at the Department of Interior. As Mara de Hovanesian reports, it turns out the mortgage business was almost as good at this toxic mix as big oil:

[M]any . . . young women during the boom found [their] way into an obscure banking job with the clunky title “mortgage wholesaler.” [Their experiences offer] a glimpse into the recklessness and indulgence that drove the industry to ruin. . . . Wholesalers are paid on commission: the more loans they generate, the more money they make. . . . During the housing boom, lenders typically approved the loans and then packaged them into securities. That path—from mortgage brokers to wholesalers to lenders to securities—turned out to be a road to disaster.

Eventually the deal-making turned frenetic. Multiple wholesalers began inundating mortgage brokers with offers for the same applications. Some brokers chose to exercise their power by asking for something extra in exchange for their business: sex. Dozens of former brokers and wholesalers say the trading of sexual favors was so common that it came to be expected. [One who declined advances stated]: “I didn’t want to be a mortgage slut.”

At the heart of the subprime crisis was the growing cultural obsession with transforming homes from mere places of shelter to investments–their exchange value eclipsed their intrinsic value. I’m not surprised that this hypercommercial mentality would slip from individuals’ views of their homes to their views of themselves. Add in sexism in the business world and an all-too-tempting road to riches appeared.

Hopefully advocates of the prosperity gospel will realize the all-consuming greed an “ownership society” can unleash. As Lipshaw notes, religion can help moralize market participants, but can itself be overwhelmed by a wild west atmosphere of easy money.

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