Underwater Mortgages and You

| Mon Jan. 31, 2011 4:41 PM EST

Homeowners who are underwater on their mortgages are a drain on the economy because high mortgage payments reduce their demand for other goods and services. So how do we fix this? Mike Konczal reviews a couple of proposals to help out distressed homeowners and doesn't like them:

These two plans sound like really complicated programs, large-enough in scale to be inefficient. Which is a waste, since we already have this great system for writing down and managing burdensome debt, and it’s this marvelous thing called our bankruptcy laws. Sadly there’s a defect in it that prevents bankruptcy courts from writing down single-family principle residence mortgage....[But] we could easily pass a streamlined, modified version of bankruptcy just for this crisis.

I think bankruptcy "cramdown" is a good idea, but there's a problem with it: lots of homeowners who are stuck with mortgages they can't afford — mortgages that, in aggregate, are a massive drag on the economy — nonetheless aren't in such desperate straits that they can declare bankruptcy. In addition, there are others who could, but don't want to. Bankruptcy is a big deal, after all.

So I'm a little more sympathetic toward those broader plans than Mike is, because they might help a broader swath of homeowners and get the economy moving more quickly. Unfortunately, as much as people hate bailing out banks, they hate bailing out their profligate neighbors even more. I think we can safely expect nothing to happen on this front, and that means the economy will continue to underperform and unemployment will stay high. Thanks, tea partiers!