crunch.thumbnail.jpgI have received multiple e-mails today suggesting that instead of the bailing out banks at the expense of taxpayers, the government should give mortgage holders money to pay off their mortgages.

Both ideas are bad. But there is a better solution.

Why the Government Shouldn’t Just Bail Out The Banks

The government is talking about setting up a Trust to buy distressed debt then sell it again. The problem is that the Trust company will simply bail out banks at taxpayer expense without helping mortgage holders much. The mortgages it sells will still be underwater, or too expensive for many people to service, especially as their houses lose value.

The other proposal, just giving money to people to pay for their mortgages, is bad also. Housing prices are actually dropping, most mortgages issues were bad mortgages with horrible penalty clauses, based on assumptions about housing values which are just wrong. House prices are going to keep dropping.

What the government should do instead is set up a Trust to buy mortgages at a discount, then reset them to 20, 30 or 50 year fixed mortgages with a reduced face amount. If the house is later sold, half of the increase goes to the government, so that taxpayers make a profit. The mortgage cannot be paid off before the end of its term so that financial scavengers cannot come around and, as they did over the last ten years, say "get rid of that mortgage, and take ours. It’s better. Honest!", because we know that when they say better, they don’t mean better for the mortgage holder. The mortgage is attached to the property and is transfered to any new buyer. And the mortgage cannot be removed from the property, and any new mortgages attached to the property are junior to the government mortgage.

End results:

a) a floor is set for mortgage prices. (Whatever discount the government is buying at. Probably 60% to 70%, but it should be based on what the long run price was in the area before the housing bubble.) This ends the confidence crisis in these securities, because there is now a market price—what the Trust will pay.

b) It helps homeowners stay in their homes.

c) It gets rid of overly complex mortgages and puts in their place a dead simple mortgage that anyone can understand.

d) It punishes lenders, which they deserve, for making loans they should never have made.

e) While it does keep homeowners in their homes, it doesn’t let them off scot-free either. In exchange for a good mortgage they can service, they give up some of the future profits on sales in their houses.

f) The government will almost certainly make a long term profit on this. This is important, because it’s not fair for people who aren’t underwater on mortgages to spend hundreds of billions or trillions bailing out those who are without some expectation that in the end it won’t be more than just a transfer of wealth to them and to investors and banks.

This bailout can be done right. It’s up to Democrats, who appear to be in danger of stampeding into a hasty decision, to stand firm and make sure it’s done right. The last two times they didn’t stand firm and do things right, we got the Patriot Act and the Iraq War. This is too important for Democratic fecklessness. Too important for them to just give the Bush administration whatever it wants.

If they do give the administration what it wants, then Wall Street and the Banks just got bailed out, no help goes to ordinary people and you get stuck with a trillion dollar bill. Taxpayers get all the toxic assets, but Wall Street, who paid themselves more in bonuses in 2007 then 80 million Americans got in raises, keeps the profits.

Democrats need to stand up for ordinary Americans and do the right thing.

Ian Welsh

Ian Welsh

Ian Welsh was the Managing Editor of FireDogLake and the Agonist. His work has also appeared at Huffington Post, Alternet, and Truthout, as well as the now defunct Blogging of the President (BOPNews). In Canada his work has appeared in and BlogsCanada. He is also a social media strategy consultant and currently lives in Toronto.

His homeblog is at