Dear Barney: Read This!
Imagine Ted Kennedy, before he died, admitting that the health care reform bill was a mess and that everyone should start over.
Or John McCain saying that campaign finance laws were unworkable, and should be scrapped (actually, the Supreme Court just said that).
So it’s big news when Congressman Barney Frank, the biggest benefactor of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, announces that they’re hopelessly flawed and that the U.S. housing finance system should be re-built from scratch:
The remedy here is … as I believe this committee will be recommending, abolishing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in their current form and coming up with a whole new system of housing finance,” said Rep. Barney Frank (D., Mass.), the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee.
–“Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac Should Be Eliminated, Frank Says“; The Wall Street Journal(1/22/2010)
Since Mr. Frank seems to be casting around for new ideas, I thought I’d direct him to my proposal for digging Fannie and Freddie out of the multi-trillion mess they’re in (want the two word, Reader’s Digest version? Here it is: ‘equity sharing’):
When housing prices fall, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac suffer major impairments to their capital as borrowers default. However, when home prices rise (yes, that can actually happen!), the most they stand to recover is the amount they originally loaned.
Heads, borrowers win; tails, the government loses (sound familiar?).
Instead, Fannie and Freddie should insist on sharing in any upside that borrowers enjoy.
Stanford University long ago established a similar housing subsidy for faculty struggling to afford expensive Bay Area housing. In return for down payment assistance and low-cost mortgage money, the University effectively becomes a “partner” with the faculty-homeowner, enjoying a cut of the appreciation when the home is sold.
Emulating Stanford’s approach not only would help the government’s balance sheet, it would relieve pressure on foreclosures while putting borrowers on notice that there’s no free mortgage lunch. Over time, one might expect that realization to curtail their appetites . . .
–Ross Kaplan, The Equity Sharing Solution to the GSE Morass; City Lakes Real Estate Blog (12/29/2010)
Will this happen?
I doubt it.
Instead, my guess is that Congress will take a page from the mutual fund industry when it has a big loser on its hands.
Namely, the fund’s stewards put the “loser fund” out of its misery by merging it with another fund with a better name — and track record.