Friday, January 18, 2008

Fortune Magazine Calls Hillary's Housing Propsal "Dumb"

Jon Birger rips into Hillary Clinton's proposal to fix the mortgage problem in the nation.

Hillary Clinton is no dummy. Even her detractors know that. And yet in last night's Democratic presidential debate in Nevada, Clinton floated what is perhaps the dumbest solution to the current mortgage mess I've heard from a top presidential contender.

And why...?

Where Clinton goes awry is her proposal to freeze mortgage rates for five years, which is essentially a much broader version of a deal President Bush recently hammered out with lenders to assist some subprime borrowers. If Clinton's only goal were to bail out homeowners facing steep rate resets on adjustable mortgages, her plan would work just fine.

For everyone else though, such a freeze would be disastrous. Interest rates on new mortgages would skyrocket - perhaps past 8 percent, as the mutual funds, pension funds and other investors who typically provide capital to the mortgage market shift their money into other investments where the government isn't impairing returns. With higher mortgage rates eroding buying power, the downward pressure on home prices would only increase. Lower home prices would lead to even more defaults, as more folks who'd lost the equity in their homes choose to walk away from their mortgages.

Ouch. So Hillary's plan would hurt investments of various kinds, including my 401k. Birger continues, comparing the other Democratic frontrunner's plan.

Barack Obama, meanwhile, wants to require better disclosure by lenders (of low teaser rates, for example) and, like Clinton and Edwards, proposes a government fund to help borrowers transition from unaffordable adjustable mortgages to lower-rate fixed ones.

That's smart and at least sensible. What is interesting is that not even liberal economists find Clinton's idea as sensible policy.

However, when I discussed Clinton's plan with a more sympathetic economist - one who'd worked for Bill Clinton - his reaction was much like mine and Duncan's. "This is an ugly correction, but it's a necessary one," says Jared Bernstein, senior economist with the liberal-leaning Economic Policy Institute. "This kind of an idea is a little bit of untying your shoes with a buzz-saw."

Hillary Clinton...no need for on the job training in the White House, because plans like this will definitely keep her out of it.

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