With a sense of irony and amazement that Congress actually might be getting the housing mess right, Sebastian Mallaby's column in today's Washington Post hits the nail on the head. It's interesting that it took a writer whose major beat is international economics to see the point about negative externalities and the collective public good. As several of us, through many forums--I've been working with the Center for American Progress on the Save America's Family Equity or SAFE proposal--have been saying for months, this is not a matter of bailing out either borrowers or lenders or of preventing house prices from falling. This is a matter of cushioning the blow for all the rest of us--the communities that will pay dearly from declining tax revenues and increased demand for services; the homeowners whose mortgages are long-since paid off or who have been paying faithfully and can and will continue to do so; the renters who have lost their homes because their landlord can't afford to pay the mortgage any more.
Mallaby points to the positive steps Congress is taking to enable loan servicers to sell or refinance their loans after taking a substantial haircut and to enable borrowers to get new loans that they can support--with upside to the government to compensate for taking the risk. I wish he'd included the proposal outlined in Congressman Frank's bill for bulk transfers of loans, because I believe that ultimately that will be necessary. But the essential points are there. As is the point that the tax giveaways in the Senate's "housing" bill are outrageous.