George w. Bush's mad dream was what he called the "ownership society" in which every man and woman possible would own their own home - or two. It became a fetish that turned into reality engorged on cheap money and limitless debt. Toward the end of America's real estate binge, two out of three new mortgages written in California were "interest only."
It wasn't only America that went mad with the illusion of imagined wealth. Greece, Portugal, Iceland, even Ireland fell into the trap. For a while everybody imagined themselves to be rich and, until reality set in, lived the grand dream. Now that dream has turned into a nightmare. BBC News says that the inevitable sag has left Ireland with one house in five standing empty and no buyers on the horizon:
David McWilliams is the man who coined the phrase "ghost estate" when he wrote about the first signs of a disastrous over-build in Ireland back in 2006.
Now, it is a concept the whole country is depressingly familiar with. Most Irish people have one on their doorstep - an ugly reminder, says the economist and broadcaster, of wounded national pride.
"Emotionally, we have all taken a battering," he says. "Like every infectious virus, the housing boom got into our pores. You could feel it.
"You'd go to the pub and people would be talking about what house they'd bought. And now a lot of people, myself included, think 'God, we were conned'."
...But hindsight is a wonderful thing. Only a few years ago, developers feeding money into local government coffers were getting free rein to build row upon row of five-bedroom detached houses on the green outskirts of towns nobody had even thought of commuting from before.
Banks were throwing money at members of the public who saw these houses either as an escape to a better lifestyle or an investment route to riches.
Builders from eastern Europe were working overtime to create homes, the value of which was sometimes three times what it is now.
...Ciaran Cuffe is the Green Party minister of state in charge of the audit [of empty and incomplete housing]. "It's one heck of a challenge", he says, "because we have the legacy of many years of poor planning, and an economy that was overheated, paid far too much attention to construction and was more interested in the quantity than the quality of homes".
He says Ireland's perceived wealth was part of the problem.
"I think there was a view that demand would continue indefinitely at a time when we had very high levels of immigration.
"People thought the housing was needed not only for the people of Ireland but also for others that had come here, and that this golden goose would continue to lay golden eggs for ever."
"I certainly think demolition could be part of the solution in cases where we have housing estates that are unoccupied, that are miles away from where people want to live and that were badly built in the first place."
And indeed, many of Ireland's ghost estates are in the unlikeliest, most isolated places.
It is strange, looking down vast rows of immaculate new-builds, taking in their optimistically-planted front gardens and peering through curtain-less windows into unwanted granite-topped fitted kitchens, to comprehend the fact that they might never be occupied.
Perhaps generations to come will look back on this, the first decade of the 21st century, as the time the West took leave of its senses.