Monday, December 10, 2007

Thoughts on the Foreclosure Bailout

Everyone has weighed in with their opinions about the proposed government bailout of some of the 1.2 million people facing foreclosure... I guess I'll toss out my nickel (side thought... if everyone that has offered an opinion actually gave up the nickel, WE could bail out the people facing foreclosure...)

I don't like government bailouts.

I'm a libertarian (I haven't joined the party, so I'm not a Libertarian). I don't believe that government has a role in every part of our lives. I think that the US Constitution is the guideline for the structure of our laws... and the role the government is supposed to play.

Even after looking at the Constitution twice, I can't find where it says that people that make bad decisions... mistakes even... should be bailed out by the government. And, that is what we are dealing with here. Banks lowered their standards for giving away money (and that is what they were doing, largely, giving away money). And consumers took out loans that they really didn't have a plan to repay.

So, who are the real victims here?

Is it the banks that are getting stuck with absolutely crappy loan portfolios? No. They got exactly what they deserved when some of them were driven right out of business.

Is it the borrowers that bought $500,000 homes and thought that their payments would remain at $1600/mo. forever? Or maybe the people that refinanced and bought bass boats and Suburbans with their "equity? Maybe it's the investors that bought property with 125% loans and then tried to put in minimal effort for maximum return with a flip? No, nope, and nuh-uh. Again, they ignored the risks so that they could do what they wanted to do. Being able to get someone to finance them only served as justification that their desires were not out of line.

Is it the mortgage backed security buyers? It wasn't, until the government decided to change the terms of the securities they bought.

But what about the fraud and predatory lenders?

Even running rampantly, fraud only accounts for a small percentage of total loan volume. So, it isn't much different than the teacher making everyone put their heads down on the desk because one kid in the class shot a spitball. And, many of the "predatory lenders" aren't that predatory. Sure, it is fun to talk about greed (a term that is vaporous to define anyway) and taking advantage of people in precarious situations, but we need to also keep in mind that the risk/reward equation means that these borrowers presented a higher risk. As some states have found out, when they "clamp down on predatory lenders" and cap rates or otherwise try to control market forces, they end up limiting choices for the very people they are try to protect.

So, instead of writing sweeping legislation, it would be much more effective to enforce current laws against fraud.

So, where does that leave us?

It leaves us with the only real victims being the one group that isn't being protected. And those that made irresponsible decisions being rewarded for those decisions. Instead of finding the 60,000 loans that might actually involve fraud, and prosecuting the people responsible, the government is looking at "fixing" 1,200,000 loans. And, while "fixing" those loans, nullifying agreed upon contracts.

It is a bad precedent.

No comments: