John Wieland and Johnny Isakson count housing cycles the way most of us count rings on a tree. They go back a ways. The two first crossed paths in business—namely, the real estate business—in the Atlanta area in the late 1960s.
Before the 2000s, nary a real estate run-up or downturn could happen without Wieland and Isakson having been through one, or two, or three just like it. Just shy of 10 years into the current millennium, it's likely safe to say they've finally seen it all.
Early on, Wieland—a home builder famous these many years for liking to do things just exactly his way—and Isakson, a former Realtor, were bound not to agree 100 percent on just about anything. Still, that couldn't stop them from becoming friends.
“I can guess that the first time we met, it was probably about a commission that he didn't get on the sale of one of our houses,” recalls Wieland about his good friend of three decades. “Still, from the minute you meet Johnny, you get the feeling that ‘this is your kind of guy.' He's very approachable and very warmhearted.”
Approachable, yes. Soft, no. As a matter of fact, while Isakson's warmth may make him a personal friend to one of America's leading home builders, it's his cool, unrelenting political opportunism on Capitol Hill that could make the freshman Republican senator from Georgia the best friend all home builders could have right now.
Isakson's agenda after August recess—and that of every member of Congress—looks like a miracle worker's to-do list: 1. Health care reform; 2. Energy transformation; 3. Financial regulation; and by the way, 4. Keep the economy from sliding back into the pits.
Isakson doesn't need prompting when it comes to where housing fits in this agenda. He knows issues with other labels on them are priorities, and, to him, sorting out housing goes part and parcel with solutions in all of them.
“If you can get home sales going again, you're going to get employment coming back, and that will lead to consumer spending coming back, and then you're going to see equity start to grow, and corporate earnings, and as that happens, the economy will start to be able to pay for things again,” says Isakson. “We are not going to be able to come out of this crisis without the housing market.”
On a national scale, the belligerent ghosts of Adam Smith and John Maynard Keynes have managed to whip Wall Street, Main Street, the halls of academia, and the corridors of Capitol Hill into a frenzy of free-market versus stronger government policy power struggles. “Us against them” has scarcely ever been so complex a collision as it is now. Seismic scrapes and shifts of political ideology, economic theory, religious tenets, social mores, and even tastes and preferences grind us during this economic crisis into polarized camps on some issues and fast friends on others.
For now and the near future, Washington looms as a larger, inescapable figure in our conference rooms and our living rooms. It is not a question of “whether” Capitol Hill will or will not be an ongoing huge part of America's action plan to get back on its economic feet. It's a question of how effectively the government and its agencies carry out their heavier-handed initiatives–and at what price.