Streams

Stucknation: Is Obama 'Recovery' Another 'Mission Accomplished'?

Monday, April 04, 2011 - 09:16 AM

As President Obama kicks off his re-election bid, his boosters hail this month's tenth-of-one-percent drop in the nation's unemployment rate - to 8.8 percent from 8.9 percent the month before.

But a statistic more relevant to assessing the national moment was the near 14 percent drop in home prices last month, an historic one month decline. Meanwhile, there is the continued swelling of the ranks of long term unemployed to 6.1 million in March - now 45.5 percent of the 13 million idle Americans - another historic record.

Millions of foreclosures are playing out as the wealth disparity continues to swell and the buying power of wages continues to decline. The U.S. Treasury Department failed in a spectacular fashion to help the millions of American households with underwater mortgages that was a condition for Treasury to bail out the banks that caused the problems in the first place.

Is this the "recovery" we purchased with hundreds of billions of dollars of borrowed federal dollars that will take generations to pay off? Will the President's re-election platform be "it could have been worse?"

Double-digit declines in the value of the most significant asset the average American family owns represents a level of wealth destruction that can not be ignored just because the bipartisan ruling elites are insulated from feeling it. It means short sales, canceled college plans, abandoned homes and scuttled plans for retirement.

So how do we stop the steady quarter-by-quarter bleeding out of Main Street America?

In the corridors of WNYC, I caught up with Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel laureate and a professor at Columbia University's Business School. He was in to discuss his recent article in Vanity Fair with Brian Lehrer titled "Of the 1 Percent, by the 1 Percent, for the 1 Percent," on America's wealth disparity.

HENNELLY: "So what is the Joe Stiglitz 30-second shorthand for saving the struggling American homeowner who can still afford to pay a mortgage not just the one that they ended up with?"

STIGLITZ: "Well we have a legal framework for dealing with these issues in other areas like with corporations. When corporations owe more than they can pay, when what they owe is worth more than the value of their assets we give them a fresh start, we call it chapter 11. And they restructure the debt. And we do it in a way that is very clean and preserves jobs. And it is very important to do it in a way that preserves enterprize and our companies."

"For a reason I don't understand we pay less attention to our families and giving them a fresh start. So what I have argued is we ought to give American families a fresh start.

"Some of them made a mistake. But the lenders made a mistake too. There are always two sides to every loan, the borrower and the lender. And the lender in many of these cases did not just make a little mistake. They actually engaged in predatory lending trying to take advantage of poor and uneducated people."

"So my view is you have a situation like that where today the loan exceeds the value of the home, you write down the mortgage. The lender has a stake in the house. If, subsequently, the homeowner sells the house and makes a capital gain, the lender should get a significant fraction of the capital gain."

HENNELLY: Wouldn't that work to stabilize the price on people's homes?

STIGLITZ: "This would serve to stabilize the asset price. It would not only do that, it would stabilize families. It would stabilize our communities. In many parts of the United States whole communities are being devastated by foreclosure."

HENNELLY:"There are places now where property taxes are going up while the value of peoples' homes are actually going down."

STIGLITZ:"We are facing a situation now where home prices are falling once again and we can see a whole new set of foreclosures going forward. The only reason we have not had more foreclosures is that the banks have been so bad at managing, throwing people out of homes where they don't even owe" the banks money.

"A system of justice, a rule of law? We used to say innocent until proven guilty but with the banks its not that way. Your guilty until you prove you don't owe them money."

HENNELLY: Would you like to be Treasury Secretary?

STIGLITZ: "Our country has some really big challenges ahead. And we saved the banks but we did not save the American homeowners."

Tags:

More in:

The Morning Brief

Enter your email address and we’ll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.

Comments [1]

Harrison Bergeron from Fair lawn NJ

Bob, all weel said and good words from Prof. Stiglitz also.

Bigger problems are ahead for most of us most likely.

That pack of rascals down in Washington tossed a lot of our money at the banksters, but I don't know anyone who has been able to restructure their mortgage loan. The banks "just say no".

And it just goes on. The state governments are using a divide-and-conquer strategy against working people by demonizing the public unions. Each of us alone cannot have the voice that a Wall Street (or GE) executive has. Our only chance at all is in some sort of union.

So that wealth disparity thing just continues.

And economic recovery? How? The underlying problem of lack of industrial productivity is not even being identified publicly. Our best hope is that the Europeans are even more screwed up.

Apr. 04 2011 11:05 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Sponsored

About It's A Free Blog

Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of a blog, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

Supported by

WNYC is supported by the Charles H. Revson Foundation: Because a great city needs an informed and engaged public.  Learn more at revsonfoundation.org.

Authors

Feeds

Supported by