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FDL Book Salon Welcomes Eric John Abrahamson, Building Home: Howard F. Ahmanson and the Politics of the American Dream

Welcome Eric John Abrahamson (Wiki) and Host Cynthia Kouril (FDL)

Building Home: Howard F. Ahmanson and the Politics of the American Dream

If you ever wanted to know the real life background of the movie’s Mildred Pierce or It’s a Wonderful Life and to understand the social legislative, regulatory and economic forces that contributed to the post-WWII residential development of California, this book will provide you with a wealth of information.

If you want to confirm that strict regulation will not prevent someone from building up a huge and profitable business in a “managed economy”, Howard Ahmanson is your case study, he became very rich in the insurance and Savings & Loan businesses during a time when both were regulated far more so than today, or even most living memory.

If you want a backstage look at California Republican politics before Earl Warren or Richard Nixon went to Washington, there’s a bit of that in there. If you are a California history buff, there may be much in this book that is new to you.

Building Home follows the life and career of Howard Ahmanson who took a substantial, but not enormous inheritance, and used it to found first an insurance company, and later a Savings & Loan that turned into an empire worth hundreds of millions of dollars. In doing so, he was part of a small group who transformed the landscape of Southern California building up suburban developments from what had been ranches and orange groves.

As the sole owner of Home Savings & Loan, he made his fortune by catering to the dreams of the middle class for home ownership. His loans were of the conventional type and he cross-sold homeowner’s insurance to people who obtained mortgages from him. These were conservative mortgages, not no doc/ no doc/ liar’s loans, because in those days, the industry was very heavily regulated. This heavy regulation had the added benefit of keeping the savings and loan industry itself stable. What a relic of history.

Ahmanson is also another kind of relic. A one-percenter who believed in the civic duty to give back. He did so, in terms of the involvement in the University of California, involvement in politics, and by creating a foundation that gave out grants in education and the arts. Are you old enough to remember when Masters of the Universe actually felt the need to give back? Can you remember the days when regulations were seen as good things? When the phrase “consumer protection” was used by someone other than Elizabeth Warren? If you’re too young to remember what the world was like when we had decades of prosperity and relative economic fairness in the “managed economy”, or if you want to take stroll down memory lane, back to the days of economic regulation, you may want to crack the spine on this book.

 

[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions.  Please take other conversations to a previous thread. – bev]

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