Perhaps the worst feature of the bailouts and the stimulus has been that, whatever their merits as short terms fixes, they have done nothing to improve economic policy over the long haul; indeed, they compound past mistakes.
Here is a good example:
For months, troubled homeowners seeking to lower their mortgage payments under a federal plan have complained about bureaucratic bungling, ceaseless frustration and confusion. On Thursday, the Obama administration declared that the $75 billion program is finally providing broad relief after it pressured mortgage companies to move faster to modify more loans.
Five hundred thousand troubled homeowners have had their loan payments lowered on a trial basis under the Making Home Affordable Program.
The crucial words in the story are “$75 billion” and “pressured.”
No one should object if a lender, without subsidy and without pressure, renegotiates a mortgage loan. That can make sense for both lender and borrower because the foreclosure process is costly.
But Treasury’s attempt to subsidize and coerce loan modifications is fundamentally misguided. It means many homeowners will stay in homes, for now, that they cannot really afford, merely postponing the day of reckoning.
Treasury’s policy is also misguided because it presumes that everyone who owned a house before the meltdown should remain a homeowner. Likewise, Treasury’s view assumes that all the housing construction over the past decade made good economic sense.
Both presumptions are wrong. U.S. policy exerted enormous pressure for increased mortgage lending in the years leading up to the crisis, thereby generating too much housing construction, too much home ownership and inflated housing prices.
The right policy for the U.S. economy is to stop preventing foreclosures, to stop subsidizing mortgages, and to let the housing market adjust on its own. Otherwise, we will soon see a repeat of the fall of 2008.