SHILLER: Principal Must be Written Down for Economic Recovery

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Editor’s Comment:  

We are looking into the abyss of economic failure. For economists, the people who know the facts, the ONLY answer left on the table is principal correction or principal reduction. We have tried everything else.

The reason is very simple. The Banks created a market where prices soared above values and like any other situation where there is a false spike in prices over values, the correction needs to be made. The free market has already arrived at the same conclusion —- nobody wants those mortgages even if they were valid and enforceable. The refusal to rush toward principal reduction is putting the banks in an all or nothing position. The market and the economists have spoken — if that is the choice the banks will get nothing.

But the word from the banks is that we can’t have principal reduction. The real reason is that their balance sheets will be wrecked by forcing them to admit that those assets they are reporting are pure fiction — an inevitable consequence of bank excess finally recognized by the rating agencies last week. But the banks are spinning the myth that if principal reduction (in other words REALITY) prevails then everyone will want to do it. Assuming that is true, why not?  Shouldn’t everyone want reality? The Banks have had their windfall, they have been paid enough to pay back the investor lenders, and they are driving the economy into a ditch with their unrelenting death grip on the purse strings. 

Americans must decide between the Iceland model in which their economy quickly recovered, and the American model where we continue to languish with no real prospects for recovery. The European attempt at austerity drove them further over the brink. In fact, every policy is now debunked that ignores the realities of the market place and the reality of the importance of the housing market in ANY economic recovery. There is only one thing left. It is the right thing to do.

We have exhausted every idea except for doing the right thing. Restore homes to people who were unlawfully and fraudulently induced into signing papers that never even recited the terms of repayment as it was recited to the real lenders and which never disclosed the multiple borrowers on each loan, most of whom were hidden from the borrowers. Write down the mortgages just as the banks have already done, as confirmed by trading in the marketplace. What is so difficult to accept here?

People get windfalls all the time when bullies take over markets. And yes many homeowners will want the benefits of a write-down that the rest of the world already accepts as true and necessary. The result will restore wealth and power to the middle class, revive the economy and restore our prospects. We will have the resources to repair our ailing infrastructure (an embarrassment to world traveling Americans), invest in education and job training, invest in innovation and get back some of that pride we once had in America.

The only people stopping this are those who are pandering to extremists who would rather see the Country collapse than to allow a “handout” to those undeserving deadbeat homeowners. The facts and reality leave them unpersuaded because fanning the flames of ideology is how many politicians achieve power and maintain it.

Like I said last week. It comes down to this: country or chaos. What is your choice?

Robert Shiller: Lenders Need To Write Down Mortgages To Solve America’s Housing Problem

By Mamta Badkar

Yale economist Robert Shiller says the housing crisis is a collective action problem.

This means, he argues in a New York Times editorial, that if all mortgage lenders were to act collectively and write down what was owed to them by individual homeowners everyone would be better off.

Shiller offers a few types of collective action to write down mortgage principles. One involves giving “community-based, government-appointed trustees a central role” in writing down mortgages, any idea proposed by Yale economist John Geanakoplos and Boston University law professor Susan P. Koniak.

Another proposed by Robert C. Hockett involves “eminent domain” which allows government to seize property with fair compensation to owners when it is done in public interest—and could apply to mortgages:

Professor Hockett argues that a government, whether federal, state or local, can start doing just this right now, using large databases of information about mortgage pools and homeowner credit scores. After a market analysis, it seizes the mortgages. Then it can pay them off at fair value, or a little over that, with money from new investors, issuing new mortgages with smaller balances to the homeowners. Taxpayers are not involved, and no government deficit is incurred. Since homeowners are no longer underwater and have good credit, they are unlikely to default, so the new investors can expect to be repaid.”

People are more likely to default on their mortgage when it is underwater i.e. when their homes are worth less than their mortgage. And  lenders lose money on foreclosures because of lower home values and legal costs. So it would be in everyone’s best interest according to Shiller if mortgage lenders were to take some such collective action.

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