Bailing out Mr. Potter: It's Not Such a Wonderful Life When Big Banks Are Raking in the Federal Aid and Millions of Americans Are Losing Their Homes

Article excerpt

JAMES CAMERON'S AVATAR IS WELL ON THE WAY TO BECOMing the biggest money-making film of all time, but the 3-D spectacle that has immersed millions in the magical and luminescent world of faraway Pandora has also given a number of fans a bad case of the homesick blues. Unlike Dorothy at the end of The Wizard of Oz, these viewers are not happy to be back in Kansas or wherever they are when the lights come up at the end of Avatar. Instead, they are depressed to find themselves awakened from what was only a lovely and enchanting dream, and wish they could click their ruby slippers together three times to get back to Pandora.

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Still, while a cluster of homesick Avatar fans are filling up chat rooms and blogs with choruses of "If I Only Had a Home," back in the real world millions of other Americans find themselves in danger of losing their physical homes and households. The financial crisis that began in 2007 with the implosion of the country's long-running housing bubble resulted in foreclosure filings on more than 2.3 million households in 2008, with another 2.8 million households getting foreclosure notices in 2009.

This year, too, foreclosures in the first quarter were up as millions of unemployed Americans have fallen further and further behind in their mortgage payments. Indeed, as many as 5 million to 7 million more households could be facing foreclosures before this recession nightmare is over. Even now one out of every 45 homes in this country is facing foreclosure, and in Nevada, Florida, Arizona, and California, one out of every 10 to 20 homeowners owes more on a home than the home is now worth.

FOR THE LAST FEW YEARS, OUR HOUSING MARKET as looked like someone was running It s a Wonderful Life in reverse, with millions of American families being forced out of their lovely suburban homes in Bailey Park and driven back into squalid shacks in Pottersville. And, as the economist Laurence Kotlikoffargues in Jimmy Stewart Is Dead: Ending the World's Ongoing Financial Plague with Limited Purpose Banking (Wiley, 2010), much of the blame for the current recession and the sub-prime and credit default mess belongs to a deregulated, corrupt, and insatiably greedy financial sector that has devoured local bankers like George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) and neighborhood banks like the Bailey Building and Loan.

University of Missouri economics and law professor William Black argues in The Best Way to Rob a Bank Is to Own One (University of Texas Press, 2005) that Wall Street's leading financial institutions committed massive fraud and theft against millions of customers, investors, and consumers.

LIKE THE TOWNSFOLK IN IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, the ancient Hebrews also longed for a home where they could be safe, sheltered, and free of crippling debt; and God and Moses delivered these homeless strangers to a promised land where every family would have a parcel of their own land and a roof over their head.

In this new home the widows and orphans and aliens would be delivered from indentured servitude and would be protected from usurious lenders and greedy merchants who might try to steal their lands or annex their households. As we read in Deuteronomy, there would be no poverty or debt in this promised land, because there would be no theft or fraud. …