Thursday, December 29, 2011


Remember this? (full view here; thanks Seven)

This chart explains who owns the title to one home in America. It was put together by a securities analyst who wanted to know who held the title to his home. It took him one year to figure this out. Here's the incredible part. It's the day job of this analyst to figure this stuff out on a daily basis.

Yeah, I know. Property rights in America shouldn't be this difficult. What a mess.

Anyways, I wrote about this and the legal maze that makes our financial and real estate markets such a mess earlier (here and here). Specifically I wrote that the very notion of property rights in America may be in trouble because of how Wall Street wanted access to income streams (to create securities), but didn't want to actually produce anything for the money. So they found a way to dump the actual title (plus the administrative and legal responsibility) of a home on to an obscure mega corporate entity called Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems (MERs). Then - in a demonstration of wealth extraction at its finest - they siphoned off the house payments into another legal maze (of securities) that benefited a few Wall Street market players.

And just like that, a small group of market players were able to make claims on millions of mortgage payments (through various "security" instruments) without having any responsibility for filing, registering, and tracking who owned the note on the house. (If you're looking for a metaphor it's kind of like handing the car keys, your wallet, and a keg of beer to your unemployed cousin and telling him to have fun.)

This is where it gets real good.

Rather than deal with homeowners after the mortgage bubble collapsed - and after their mortgage payment-security scheme went bust - Wall Street and other big market players said: "We can't negotiate with homeowners because we don't have the title to the home (MERs does). And besides, the loans have already been sold several times over ... oops."

Then, while threatening that system collapse was imminent if they didn't get bailed out, Wall Street and America's biggest financial players got the federal government to provide them with trillions in taxpayer backed guarantees. Why should big banks and Wall Street have to negotiate with homeowners (and learn from market justice) when Uncle Sam can foot the bill for their greed and arrogance?

Trillions of dollars in bailout money are now being used to purify and prop up an entire industry, while filling financial holes created when the income stream (i.e. mortgage payments) behind Wall Street's (pyramid) security schemes dried up.

Again, wealth extraction at its finest (if you're wondering why Wall Street isn't in jail, me too).

Anyways, I'm writing about all of this (again) because of how this Harper's Magazine article on MERs (hat tip to Barry Ritholtz) explains how Wall Street can make claims on money without actually producing anything of value. It also helps us all understand how our nation's biggest market players have undermined our nation's market integrity, while making a mockery of property rights in America.

If you care about the Constitution (hello, Tea Party) and the future of our nation this is one of the areas where you should be directing your attention.

- Mark

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