The trouble with the Paulson plan

More

“This is a private sector effort, involving no government money,” Hank Paulson, US Treasury secretary, said last week, announcing the deal he had just brokered among representatives of mortgage-security investors and mortgage-service companies to freeze interest-rate resets on some loans. He emphasised that the compact was voluntary. “The industry standards announced today do not change the nature of responsibilities in the servicing industry – servicers will continue to modify loans when it is in the best interests of investors.” In short, he said, it is a “market-based approach”.



Give the man some credit for using that term without laughing. Is there a housing-finance market on the planet that is more pervasively manipulated and distorted by government than that of the US – even before this latest intervention?



Start with virtually unlimited tax relief on mortgage debt. Throw in the two giant “providers of liquidity”, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, key enablers of the mortgage securitisation surge, operating in the background under implicit government guarantee, with transactions accounting for 40 per cent of US mortgages on their books. Do not forget the Federal Housing Administration, the government mortgage insurer (6m loans and counting), which the administration has just asked to take on a much expanded role. And now this.



Totting up the explicit and implicit cost of these programmes, the mind reels. The tax deduction alone is nearly $80bn a year. It is a little late for a market-based approach.



You can read the rest of this new column for the FT here.

Jump to comments
Presented by

Clive Crook is a senior editor of The Atlantic and a columnist for Bloomberg View. He was the Washington columnist for the Financial Times, and before that worked at The Economist for more than 20 years, including 11 years as deputy editor. Crook writes about the intersection of politics and economics. More

Crook writes about the intersection of politics and economics.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

When Will Robots Take Over the World?

"In a sense, we're already becoming cyborgs."


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.

Video

The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air

Video

The Origins of Bungee Jumping

"We had this old potato sack and I filled it up with rocks and dropped it over the side. It just hit the water, split, dropping all the stones. And that was our test."

Video

Is Trading Stocks for Suckers?

If you think you’re smarter than the stock market, you’re probably either cheating or wrong

Video

I Spent Half My Life Making a Video Game

How a childhood hobby became a labor of love

Writers

Up
Down

More in Business

Just In