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Excuses, Excuses

In Orange County, Calif., home foreclosures hit a new record during the first quarter of 2008. The housing crisis here and in other parts of California is part of everyday life, with foreclosure bus tours, blogs dedicated to the housing market’s woes, and constant chatter about real estate.

But when it comes to the mortgage rescue plan in Congress, some in Orange County are saying “No thanks.”

Even before the Senate tries to work out a compromise on a bill to use government money to insure $300 billion worth of home loans, the Orange County Register already has weighed in. In an editorial denouncing the entire notion of government help for borrowers, the paper urged President Bush to veto the bill. Any bill. No matter what how it ends up.

What’s fascinating to me is one of the reasons why the paper is so opposed:

It has become fashionable to blame the mortgage crisis on “predatory” lenders who have aggressively pushed bigger mortgages than people can afford to pay onto hapless homebuyers. Insofar as some lending was fraudulent, appropriate legal remedies are readily available. It should be noted, however, that the government itself pressured lenders to make mortgage money available to people with marginal credit.

Actually, I think the editorial is particularly off track here. The trend goes the other way: It’s more fashionable lately to cite “the government made me do it” theory as to how lenders got into trouble in the subprime market.

I would need the word length of a magazine article to go into all the reason why that argument is ridiculous. But let me point out just one: During much of the housing boom, interest rates were at historic lows. The only way to make some money in the mortgage market was to move into higher yield subprime loans. I can’t imagine lenders crying and wringing their hands as the government forced them to seek profits in the housing market.

But then again, I don’t live in Orange County, Calif. Apparently it’s a different world there.

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