Sunday, July 20, 2008

Bankers get bailouts before borrowers

Published: July 20, 2008

THE credit crisis has exposed and worsened a dangerous and deepening divide in this country between a vast number of average borrowers and a fairly elite slice of corporations, banks and executives enriched by the mortgage mania.

Borrowers who are in trouble on their mortgages have seen their government move slowly — or not all — to help them. But banks and the executives who ran them are quickly deemed worthy of taxpayer bailouts.

On the ground, this translates into millions of troubled borrowers, left to work through their problems with understaffed, sometimes adversarial loan servicing companies. If they get nowhere, they lose their homes.

Taxpayers, meanwhile, are asked to stand by with money to inject into Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-sponsored mortgage finance giants, should they need propping up if loan losses balloon.

The message in this disconnect couldn’t be clearer. Borrowers should shoulder the consequences of signing loan documents they didn’t understand, but with punishing terms that quickly made the loans unaffordable. But for executives and directors of the big companies who financed these loans, who grew wealthy while the getting was good, the taxpayer is coming to the rescue.

“The banks are too big to fail and the man in the street is too small to bail,” said John C. Bogle, the founder of the Vanguard Group, the mutual funds giant, who is a philosopher of finance.

Mr. Bogle is working on his seventh book, titled “Enough,” which is scheduled to be published in November. He said he was disturbed by the extreme speculation that spread into the entire economy during the housing boom and that now threatens both consumers and investors

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