A percentage of a lot is quite a bit

Here are a couple more examples of troubles we wouldn’t have under a just economic system.

Mortgage servicers incentivized to prevent mortgage modification. Many commentators have pointed out that, if the value of a property declines below the market value, and the homeowner is unable to pay, the lender is better off agreeing to reduce the principal to an amount consistent with current values.  (This is true even in the absence of any government-funded incentives.) So why does it rarely happen? It’s because lenders, apparently to conform to bizarre federal tax rules, have given up the right to modify loans.  Only the mortgage servicer, an independent company (tho sometimes a subsidiary of a big bank),  has the right to do that.  But the mortgage servicer is paid based on a percentage of the outstanding principal, thus has no incentive to help reduce it.  (Cash incentives offered under a recent federal program apparently aren’t large enough to matter.)

The geoist perspective: If land values were fully taxed,  real estate prices never would have bubbled, and mortgages would cover only the cost of the house, not the cost of the land it occupies.  Therefore mortgages would be smaller, perhaps rarer, and the whole problem of numerous underwater homeowners could never have occurred.

A little extra sleaze for municipal bonds. When a municipality (or, for that matter, any organization) issues bonds, they choose an underwriter who, for a fee, agrees to get all the bonds sold.  The issuer may choose the underwriter by open bid or by negotiation.  Academic research shows that, in the latter case, interest rates tend to be 17 to 48 basis points (hundredths of a percent) higher.  So how were 85% of the $378 billion in municipal bounds issued last year underwritten? By negotiation, which seems in theory to be costing taxpayers several billion dollars over the life of these bonds.   And that 85% includes 100% of bonds issues by the City of Chicago.  No one familiar with local government will be surprised at the reason: “[T]he city and its aldermen want to reward those who support public officials and politically connected charities.”

The geoist perspective: Most public debts are issued to benefit the underwriters and bond purchasers. At best, the funds are used for improvements that increase land values. Therefore, capital investments should be paid thru a tax on land values. If the landowner who benefits hasn’t enough cash to pay her share, she may need to borrow privately to cover it, but the general public should not be liable. If the improvement does not increase land rents enough to justify its cost, then it is not worth doing.

Much more information about both of these outrages is provided in the source articles, which you should read unless it would make your head explode.