Ben Bernanke Interview // Economist's View
One part of a long interview of Ben Bernanke:
... Jim Tankersley: But you don't think, particularly in those first moments of the crisis when Fed officials and Treasury officials were trying to work together to stop the bleeding, there weren't more things that could have been done for homeowners, for folks who were just those underwater people that you mentioned in the very beginning of your answer.
Ben Bernanke: Again, I focused first on what the Fed could do. The Fed has a certain set of tools. We were successful in stabilizing the financial system after the crisis. We were successful in getting the economy back on a recovery track, as we've seen. Now the specific example you give is homeowners — that was the responsibility of the Treasury, although we were very interested in that at the Fed; we had many conversations with the Treasury about what they were doing.
I think the Treasury made a pretty serious effort on that front. There was money appropriated under the TARP to help homeowners, and the Treasury set up programs both to help people refinance their mortgages and to modify or restructure troubled mortgages. And some millions of people were helped by those programs.
My perceptions of that effort, though, speaking from someone who was outside of that policy effort, was that there were two big sets of constraints. One was that it's just a lot harder than you think to, for example, to modify or restructure mortgages when the borrower is possibly unemployed, possibly not interested in talking to the bank or participating in a program. It was awfully difficult as a practical manner to manage the restructuring programs.
But the other part was that, people don't remember this necessarily, it was actually very politically unpopular to help troubled homeowners. And Congress put lots of restrictions on what could be done, and tried to make sure there wasn't any significant subsidy, for example. So within the inherent logistical difficulties, which were substantial, and the political constraints from Congress, the Treasury was hampered, I think, in its efforts. It did make, I think, a good-faith effort, and it did help millions of people.
Again, whether a bigger effort would've had more effect on the recovery, I'm not sure that it was a first-order issue. It certainly would've helped a lot of individual people, a lot of families. From the political point of view, it cuts both ways. The story is that the Tea Party was triggered not by anger necessarily at the financial players, but at the idea that the government would be helping people who had "overborrowed" or been irresponsible in taking out mortgages. ...
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