Recent reports that the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) will suffer default rates of more than 20% on the 2007 and 2008 loans it guaranteed has raised questions once again about the government's role in the financial crisis and its efforts to achieve social purposes by distorting the financial system.

The FHA's function is to guarantee mortgages of low-income borrowers (the mortgages are then sold through securitizations by Ginnie Mae) and thus to take reasonable credit risks in the interests of making mortgage credit available to the nation's low-income citizens. Accordingly, the larger than normal losses that will result from the 2007 and 2008 cohort could be justified by Barney Frank, the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, as "policy"--an effort to ease the housing downturn through the application of government credit. The FHA, he argued, is buying more weak mortgages in order to help put a floor under the housing market. Eventually, the taxpayers will have to judge whether this policy was justified.

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