When Barack Obama was running for President one of his favorite sound bites was that any financial bailout should not just involve Wall Street, but Main Street, too – that the government’s responsibility was to help both bankers and homeowners. But now that the election is won and Obama is in office, the two streets are still being treated very differently, with Main Street getting a lot less help from Washington.

This is a HOUSING crisis, not a BANKING crisis, yet $700+ billion has gone to help bankers and only $75 billion to “help” homeowners. The banker’s money has mainly been spent and the homeowner money has hardly been touched. If this is a HOUSING crisis, why aren’t more resources being devoted to housing?

It comes down to an issue of morality, believe it or not, with homeowners expected to be moral and bankers not. Everybody blew it, but the homeowners are being disproportionately punished for their actions.

There is no morality issue in the bank bailout. Banks are having their capital boosted based not on whether they are well run or in some way “deserving,” but purely on the basis of whether they are viewed as being in three groups: 1) doomed; 2) capable of being saved through injecting government funds, or; 3) too big to be allowed to fail no matter how poorly run. This means the least-deserving banks tend to get the most help.

But the Obama Administration’s attempt to help mortgage holders is different. If you hope for government help in restructuring your mortgage you’d better not be behind in your payments. If you missed a mortgage payment months into this crisis, you are out of luck. If your mortgage isn’t guaranteed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, you are out of luck. If your mortgage is jumbo you are out of luck. And if you owe more than 105 percent of the value of your home you are out of luck.

That’s a lot of homeowners out of luck. No wonder the Obama Administration thinks it needs only $75 billion to do the job, it is excluding so many people.

Let’s try applying the homeowner rules to the banks. If both played by the same rules, then banks with mortgage portfolios that have dropped by more than about 15 percent (are five percent or more underwater) would be ineligible for government assistance. Banks that MADE jumbo loans would be ineligible for assistance. Banks that made loans with private insurance or no insurance would be ineligible for assistance. Banks that had shown themselves unable to meet capital requirements (had effectively missed a payment) would be ineligible for assistance. In each case, these criteria define EVERY bank that has received assistance. They ALL have mortgage portfolios down in value by 15 percent or more, ALL made jumbo loans, ALL made uninsured loans, and ALL are under capitalized.

So if we apply to banks the same rules that are being applied to homeowners, then no banks deserve support and there should be no bank bailout. Well that can’t be, can it? So screw the rules, screw the idea of there being a moral issue with bankers, just start handing out cash without even requiring that they use any of it to make or restructure loans.

So that’s what the Treasury and the Fed have done – bailed out the bankers without regard to their past OR FUTURE behavior. And $700+ billion later do we really truly feel better as a result?

Hell no we don’t, because we still can’t pay our mortgages!

This bailout is broken, it is unfair, and it is incredibly inefficient as a result. The bank bailout is based entirely on providing INCENTIVES to the banks – bribing them to THINK ABOUT doing the right thing.The government won’t MAKE the banks do anything. They just ENCOURAGE the banks by giving money.

Where are the incentives in the much smaller housing bailout? There are incentives. THEY ARE ALL BEING GIVEN TO THE BANKS. It is very difficult to find in the new Federal mortgage modification rules much of anything that truly helps homeowners. Banks aren’t REQUIRED to do anything; they can reject any mortgage holder for any financial reason. The banks are PAID to restructure the mortgages and the way those mortgages are being restructured (primarily through increasing term and adding balloon payments) not only costs the banks nothing, it tends to make them MORE money over the life of the loan.

So that $75 billion allocated to modifying mortgages and keeping people in their homes, how much of that $75 billion will actually go to homeowners? About 25 percent, or $18 billion almost entirely in first-time buyer tax credits. This means the bank bailout isn’t $700+ billion, it is $758+ billion or FORTY-TWO TIMES the size of the housing bailout.

And why only first-time buyers? What makes them more deserving of help? The theory is that these are new homeowners so they’ll be buying-up excess inventory and helping to firm prices. They aren’t people selling one house to buy another. In another view they are virginal and uncorrupted by the housing bubble.It wasn’t their fault, so they are being rewarded. More morality, inequitably applied.

Main Street isn’t doing very well under this policy. Main Street is being cheated.

This is a bad plan, unfair and poorly executed. It places a moral burden on individuals and not on banks, yet there is no good explanation for why it has to be so.

What is it about banks that make them deserving of 42 times as much support as your Mom?


Like the Bush Administration before it, the Obama Administration has a bias for helping Wall Street. They couch this as a claimed inability to come up with any better ideas. Yet better ideas – ideas NOT couched in moral argument (or more appropriately couched in EQUAL moral justification) were presented right in this spot in the post titled The Not So Bad Bank. That’s a plan that helps banks and homeowners equally, doesn’t require incentives to work, acts faster, and costs a tenth as much.

What’s wrong with doing the job better, faster, and cheaper?