Matt Taibbi writes: Something very interesting is happening.
There’s been so much corruption on Wall Street in recent years, and the federal government has appeared to be so deeply complicit in many of the problems, that many people have experienced something very like despair over the question of what to do about it all.
But there’s something brewing that looks like it might be a blueprint to effectively take on the financial services industry: a plan to allow local governments to take on the problem of neighborhoods blighted by toxic home loans and foreclosures through the use of eminent domain. I can’t speak for how well the program will work, but it’s certaily been effective in scaring the hell out of Wall Street.
Under the proposal, towns would essentially be seizing and condemning the man-made mess resulting from the housing bubble. Cooked up by a small group of businessmen and ex-venture capitalists, the audacious idea falls under the category of “That’s so crazy, it just might work!” One of the plan’s originators described it to me as a “four-bank pool shot.”
Here’s how the New York Times described it in an article from earlier this week entitled, “California County Weighs Drastic Plan to Aid Homeowners”:
Desperate for a way out of a housing collapse that has crippled the region, officials in San Bernardino County … are exploring a drastic option — using eminent domain to buy up mortgages for homes that are underwater.
Then, the idea goes, the county could cut the mortgages to the current value of the homes and resell the mortgages to a private investment firm, which would allow homeowners to lower their monthly payments and hang onto their property.
I’ve been following this story for months now – I was tipped off that this was coming earlier this past spring – and in the time since I’ve become more convinced the idea might actually work, thanks mainly to the extremely lucky accident that the plan doesn’t require the permission of anyone up in the political Olympus.
Cities and towns won’t need to ask for an act of a bank-subsidized congress to do this, and they won’t need a federal judge to sign off on any settlement. They can just do it. In the Death Star of America’s financial oligarchy, the ability of local governments to use eminent domain to seize toxic debt might be the one structural flaw big enough for the rebel alliance to exploit. [Continue reading…]