Vrettos: 1. We’re waiting to see how the rhetoric of the new Biden administration will play out in actual policies.
Hudson: Biden’s long political career has been right-wing. He’s the senator from Delaware, the country’s most pro-corporate state – which is why most U.S. corporations are incorporated there. As such, he represents the banking and credit-card industry. He sponsored the regressive bankruptcy “reform” written and put into his hands by the credit-card companies. As a budget hawk, he’s rejected MMT, and also “Medicare for all” as if it is too expensive for the government to afford – thereby making the private sector afford to pay 18% of US GDP for health-insurance monopolies.
Hardly by surprise, Biden has chosen cabinet members as corporate lobbyists, including the new Secretary of Defense. And on February 9 he invited Jamie Dimon and other business leaders to the White House and asked them what they recommended. These billionaires said that they didn’t need $1.400, so why should anyone else? They pretended that spending money might cause inflation – yet we are in the midst of debt deflation and falling disposable income for most families.
Biden’s prejudices are why the Democratic National Committee pushed him as their candidate over Sanders, and why Rep. Jim Clyburn made his pharmaceutical industry backers happy by pushing Biden over the top in South Carolina, delivering the black vote in that state’s big primary.
What amazes me is the ability to attract this vote despite the degree to which Biden has sponsored legislation that hurts blacks and other minorities: his cutbacks in welfare spending, his anti-crime laws falling mainly on the black community, his bankruptcy laws, and of course his denial of universal public medical care to that part of the population with the highest death rates, shortest lifespans and worst medical care.
He has tried to cover up this history by appointing Neera Tanden as head of the budget, claiming that she’s a progressive presumably simply because she’s non-white. Yet she’s a leading opponent of Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All proposals.
In our polarized economy, wages have stagnated since 1971 – home ownership rates have fallen as foreclosures, evictions and homelessness have jumped dramatically during the 2020-2021 Covid pandemic.
The big decline in home ownership was the result of Obama’s double-crossing his campaign promises by bailing out the banks and leaving all the junk-mortgage debts and other fraudulent loans on the books. This led to foreclosures and evictions of about 9 million American families, most of them Hispanic and black. Home ownership rates plunged from 68 to 61 percent of the population (an enormous and rapid 10% drop).
The covid epidemic is leading to enormous arrears mounting up – for renters and for mortgage debtors. Evictions have been suspended by moratoriums that expire in March or April, and unpaid mortgages have been added onto later due dates (with appropriate penalties making this remunerative for the banks).
So the question is whether Biden can outdo Obama in reducing U.S. home ownership rates by another 10% — say, to just 56% of the population.
Let’s look at what could be done – today and a decade ago. Obama and Biden COULD have written down the junk mortgages to realistic market prices (and thrown the mortgage brokers and bankers in jail for fraud). Instead, they supported the fraudsters against the voters who had been promised “hope and change.” Most of the millions of foreclosed homes were bought by absentee owners and turned into rental property. Companies such as Blackstone were major players. The evicted families entered the rent market – and U.S. rent charges have soared. So consumer income has been spent much more on real estate, finance and insurance than for goods and services.
It’s most severe and unstable at the bottom of the housing market where tenants who have lost jobs have amassed $11 billion in rental arrears — a broader measure which includes all delinquent renters puts the number at $53 billion.
There are two kinds of results. The first will be an enormous accrual of back-rent debts and mortgage arrears to be paid off. For commercial businesses such as restaurants, these arrears are so large that they probably will choose to go out of business rather than paying all the profits for the next few years to their landlords.
Unless these debts are written down, most of the population is too debt-strapped to buy goods and services. So corporate profits can come only from rising prices, or getting government subsidy,
A second result is going to be a rise in homelessness in many cities. Entire camps of evictees will be forming in tents, perhaps in the major parks – or on the subways as in the past.
Many properties will be sold – yet housing prices are still rising.
What are some of the specific racial effects of this housing and job crisis, what’s been the Bidden administration’s response so far and how does this relate to your own work on racial reparations measures?
The low rates of black home ownership reflect a vicious history of red-lining. Limiting the areas where non-whites can buy has gone together with charging much higher interest rates than white buyers receive.
Housing is the basic criterion for joining the middle class. And for a century, blacks were excluded, not only by banks but from the government mortgage-insurance programs dating from FDR’s reforms in the 1930s. That’s what made black buyers “more risky” and hence charged higher interest rates.
I grew up in Hyde Park, in Chicago. The University of Chicago and its property management companies were among the worst abusers. For them, a “free market” meant a market free of blacks. But in the late 1950s they saw that they could do “block busting,” that is, selling a home in a white neighborhood to a black buyer. This panicked the neighboring owners, who sold their homes. The buyers were largely the speculators, who flipped them to black buyers at marked-up prices.
That happened on my block, on 48th and Dorchester, a block from where Obama has bought his home. Once a few houses had changed hands, Mayor Daley condemned the block. My house was torn down, as were others, and the land is not gentrified.
To put the issue in perspective, think of the situation in 1945. That is when the great increase in middle-class wealth – today’s middle-class net worth – took off. It was limited to white people, because they were the only people who qualified for the great increase in net worth created by the house-price boom over the past 75 years.
The norm was that banks limited their mortgages to a level that would absorb up to 25% of a buyer’s salary. The buyer would get a self-amortizing mortgage, to be paid off in 30 years free and clear. This limit on debt leveraging kept housing affordable.
You and I have spoken about the issue of black reparations before. It’s very hard to pay reparations for slavery, because the enslaved families have died long ago. The reparations need to be paid to the living – and after all, it’s the living blacks who remain injured.
There is one way to make the black population economically as resilient as the white population has been. That is to give it the same deal that created most white middle-class wealth. The government should buy or build homes – private homes, just like white neighborhoods, not public housing. They should offer buyers the same deal that was given in 1945. Any black family would be given a home, with a mortgage of 25% of the household head’s income, to be amortized over 30 years.