Sunday, February 14, 2010

Torinus & Geanakoplos

Today, while viewing old e-mail on a frosty Sunday, I came upon a message I sent August 16, 2009 to Milwaukee columnist and entrepreneur, John Torinus.  Mr. Torinus has some terrific ideas about creating fiscal health and opportunity here in the Badger state.  However, I was piqued by something in his column last summer and I wrote to him:

"John,

While I agree with 95% of the column, the notion – apparently advanced by John Geanakoplos -- that the government ought to force “a write-down of principal on sub-prime home loans that are under water” is wrong. 

I recall hearing one of your presentations on healthcare and the insurance plans of yesteryear which offered no incentive to control costs (as opposed to high deductible plans many of us now have). You likened the situation to a 10 cent Martini night that you observed as a young Marine. Such arrangements, you reminded the audience, just might lead one to be “over-served.”

Well that’s precisely, the story of most sub-prime borrowers – they were over-served and just as no one forced you to drain too many martinis, no lender could force someone to buy more home than they could afford.

Of course, the rest of us who behave responsibly with our health and wealth, pay the price for those who don’t, but that’s fodder for another column.

To keep sub-prime borrowers in "their" homes - the ones with jobs anyway who may just need a little time - there are better options like converting them to renter status, interest only payment extensions, etc. But write down the principle? No. Doing so abets irresponsible behavior instead of suppressing it.

Tougher mortgage underwriting standards have already taken hold because far too many people, left to their own devices, will drink from the trough until they burst."