I am of mixed opinions of how or even whether to assist people and banks that got involved in the overinflated housing market over the last few years. But one thing I am clear about is that giving out billions of dollars of taxpayers' money to the housing industry that reaped in mega-profits during those years is profoundly wrong.
Daniel Gross wrote in Slate last Monday (emphasis added):
The proposed tax break [now passed by the Senate] is hard to justify for several reasons. It does nothing for slow and steady companies that keep their heads and simply rack up profits year after year—and pay their taxes accordingly. Rather, it rewards the most reckless participants in the bubble. If you borrowed a ton of money to build spec houses in Miami and reported $2 billion in profits between 2002 and 2007 but gave up all those profits by notching a $2 billion loss this year, the extended carryback has a great deal of value. If you've been building affordable housing in Wichita, Kan., and booked $300 million in profits in those years, and then, through careful management of costs, managed to eke out a $5 million profit this year, it has no value. The big public homebuilders, whose shares rallied on the news of this potential tax break, didn't pay any windfall taxes on the bubble-era earnings. Why should they get an extraordinary post-bubble windfall?
Homebuilders argue that they need relief because their sector, which provides a great deal of domestic employment, is on the ropes, and they're finding it more difficult to raise capital. Which is as it should be. After bubbles pop, those who screwed up really badly fail and get taken over by creditors or opportunistic investors. Those who have sound underlying franchises but merely got a little carried away can survive if they take painful restructuring moves. This is what is known as market capitalism. For all the talk of a credit crunch, capital is still available—it's just not available on the easy terms managers had come to expect during the late Greenspan years. Citigroup, Merrill Lynch, and plenty of other firms tied to the mortgage/finance complex have taken steps to shore up their balance sheets and replenish lost capital. But investors, having been burned, demand more downside protection and better guaranteed returns. Thornburg Mortgage was forced to pay 18 percent interest for an emergency round of capital raising that allowed it to stave off bankruptcy. This is also what is known as market capitalism.
The proposal to give new tax breaks to homebuilders and banks is yet another example of the pernicious trend of privatizing profit and socializing losses, which is gnawing away at faith in the system. Dilute the shareholders, not the taxpayers.
Thankfully, the House of Representatives may take a far more sensible route, according to the Washington Post (emphasis added):
On Wednesday, the House Ways and Means Committee approved an $11 billion tax package that rejects help for home builders and offers a $7,500 tax credit to first-time home buyers rather than buyers of foreclosed properties.
Please keep paying attention so that we all do not get swindled in the end.