Finally, I have a few suggestions regarding dealing with the current crisis associated with the decline of the housing bubble and the distress this is causing to individuals, especially those facing foreclosures or difficulties in paying their mortgages. I would support two proposals that have been floating around.
The first is that of foreclosure vouchers, a proposal due to David Colander. The idea is to have the government (Treasury? HUD?) distribute to taxpayers mortgage foreclosure vouchers, based on income, with lower income persons receiving larger vouchers. These can either be used to pay off a mortgage for those facing foreclosure or to buy a house that has been foreclosed. Otherwise, they can be sold in a secondary market. This will help those in most danger and may help to stabilize the housing market as well, although there will probably need to be some further declines in housing prices as they continue to remain some 10-30% above historical norms, if the Case-Shiller index is to be believed. While falling housing prices are creating many problems, ultimately lower housing prices will make it easier for younger and poorer people to buy houses without relying on exotic mortgages, which should be sharply limited.
Another idea is that of a shared appreciation mortgage (SAM), which have been used in the past as well as in the UK. In this case, a borrower gets a lower mortgage rate, but must share any appreciation of the value of their house with the lender. This may provide a way for renegotiating mortgages to make them easier to pay, while preserving the stability of the lending institutions as well. Apparently this sort of mortgage is technically available for use right now, but has been not used in recent years due to an IRS ruling against them because of problems keeping debt and equity separate for tax purposes. As has been noted by proponents, this rule could be changed "by the stroke of a pen" used by the Treasury Secretary.
As a final note, I point out that Canadian banks are currently rated the safest in the world and have been relatively unharmed during this current crisis. Their regulations are clear and straightforward, with the Canadians having a nationwide, branch banking system. So, it is possible to improve how the financial system works through appropriate rules and regulations.