The federal government is soon to be ladling out tax dollars to bail out Fannie Mae. Who will pay for this? Joe Sixpack, a guy who works hard at two jobs, rents an apartment, and tries to support a couple of kids. Who benefits? Stockholders in Fannie Mae. Holders of bonds issued by Fannie Mae. The 5,000 employees of Fannie Mae, including the CEO who helped himself to $13.4 million in salary this year. What do the stockholders, bondholders, and employees have in common? They are all richer than average Americans and they are all going to be sucking down tax dollars paid by poorer than average Americans (plus some tax dollars from the rich, of course).
Joe Sixpack might have been thinking that he could finally afford to rent a nicer apartment or maybe even buy a place. But now Congress is giving the states $4 billion to buy up property in crummy neighborhoods. Joe won’t be getting any bargains because he will have to compete with the government when he goes home-shopping. Suppose he remains a renter? Higher real estate prices will result in higher rents, which aren’t going to be too affordable for Joe because he is about to be laid off from one of his jobs.
In Roman times the employees of Fannie Mae would be decimated, i.e., they would draw lots and 90 percent of them would beat the unlucky 10 percent to death with clubs. What would be a modern equivalent? At the very least taxpayers should have the satisfaction of seeing the highest paid 100 Fannie Mae employees fired with two weeks of severance pay (it can’t be that hard to find replacements given that the current staff’s primary achievements have been accounting fraud and then insolvency). The newspapers say that it is important for foreigners to have confidence that the U.S. will pay its debt. Let’s pay foreign bond holders in full then, using tax dollars as necessary. After all, a guy in China could not be expected to understand that a bunch of crummy houses in Cleveland were not worth $250,000 each. Let the domestic shareholders get 10 cents on the dollar and let the domestic bondholders get whatever the bonds are actually worth.
Poor Americans already subsidize wealthy homeowners through the home mortgage deduction. Do they need to subsidize incompetent managers who have already been paid $billions? Do they need to subsidize rich guys who bought Fannie Mae bonds? Do they need to subsidize shareholders who didn’t realize that the easy money from Fannie Mae couldn’t last forever?
[More: Wall Street Journal op-ed]