With millions of homeowners now struggling to repay money they clearly never should have borrowed, our leaders have been righteously wagging fingers at predatory lenders who allegedly enticed innocent borrowers, and the country, into a financial snake pit. While the mortgage industry clearly deserves a good share of the blame, unindicted co-conspirators abound. The ringleaders are still at-large and are, in fact, busy hatching a plan to dwarf the earlier mistakes.
Contrary to the message bouncing off the marble walls of the Capitol, most borrowers in the inflating housing bubble clearly understood the terms of their loans. Most knew that they could not afford their mortgage payments once their teaser rates expired, but enthusiastically jumped into the debt pool anyway believing that guaranteed real estate appreciation, or a quick and profitable sale, would keep them afloat.
Although both lenders and borrowers were acting in their own perceived self-interest, what can we say of our economic policymakers who are expected to protect the good of all? Their actions encouraged the whole sad circus. Were it not for the excessively low interest rates provided by the Fed, the lax lending standards and moral hazards supplied by Congress courtesy of Freddie, Fannie, and the FHA, and the many real estate subsidies built into the tax code, none of these predatory loans would have been possible.
Had lenders exercised better judgment and had borrowers avoided overly burdensome debt loads, both parties would clearly be in better financial positions today. Instead, as borrowers were demanding the credit to fuel their dreams of instant real estate riches, lenders were being ordered to accommodate them.
February 21, 2009
Peter Schiff is president of Euro Pacific Capital and author of The Little Book of Bull Moves in Bear Markets and Crash Proof: How to Profit from the Coming Economic Collapse.