Friday, April 20, 2007

Open Letter: Housing Bubble Bailout

Dear Congressmen and Senators,

I am writing today to express my concern over various proposals being floated that would bail out homeowners who have taken out risky or inappropriate loans in the past few years. I am strongly opposed to any kind of bailout. Bailing out people for reasons other than 'acts of God' is bad policy because doing so creates a 'moral hazard'. A moral hazard teaches people that poor decisions do not have negative consequences, which of course is completely wrong.

The modern practice of American homeownership has existed for several decades. Part of that practice has been the broadly-held knowledge that a household should not buy a home that costs more than 3.5 times the household's annual income. Unfortunately, due to the Federal Reserve holding interest rates too low for too long following the 2001 recession, and due to an under-regulated mortgage industry 'innovating' by creating a wide array of very risky new 'products', a great number of households have purchased homes that they would not be able to afford under normal and more rational circumstances. The two unique factors temporarily lowered the down-payment and initial cash flow required to purchase a home, and allowed some households to purchase homes far more expensive than the 3.5 multiplier rule would otherwise dictate. These lower requirements enabled housing prices to be bid up artificially, and created the current housing bubble. As the two special circumstances disappear, housing prices will come down.

I encourage you to use your office to investigate fraudulent and deceptive business practices in the mortgage industry, as well as the wider real estate industry. There are plenty of reports of appraisers inflating home values, real estate agents pressuring appraisers to do so, agents and mortgage brokers encouraging borrowers to lie on their loan applications, and so on. Proper investigation and oversight of the real estate and mortgage industries is needed, especially since the current administration has not done so. I encourage you to create ways for homeowners who have been victims of fraud and deception to seek appropriate compensation.

However, bailing out homeowners would set a bad precedent, as well as keeping housing prices artificially high. The majority of homeowners have made good financial decisions, and bailing out the minority who made bad decisions would be unfair and inappropriate. That means many homeowners who have made bad decisions will suffer, along with holders of risky mortgage bonds. Financial loss must be the price of making bad financial decisions, otherwise there would be no reason to make good financial decisions. Inaction during widespread financial losses is certainly not a vote-winner, but you were elected to provide quality leadership for this country. The appropriate leadership now would be to make sure the unique factors that enabled the housing bubble do not re-occur, and to investigate fraudulent and deceptive practices in the real estate industry. I am confident you will make the correct choice.

Thank you for your time.

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