90 posts categorized "Historical Perspectives"

Coyle on Studying the History of a Contract Provision

posted by Mitu Gulati

The way many of us teach interpretation in Contract Law, there is little role for history (admittedly, this is just based on casual observation). The meaning of a clause is a function of the words that make up that clause.  The parties to the transaction are assumed to have drafted it to document the key aspects of their transaction, to balance risks and rewards blah blah.  If a dispute arises, we might have an argument as to whether a strict textualist reading of the words accurately represent what the parties really meant by them or whether we need to also examine the context of the relationship. What we do not ever do, however, is to delve into the history of the clause from before these parties contemplated using it – that is, of what prior drafters of the original versions of this clause might have meant in using it.

The foregoing makes sense in a world in which the contracts for each deal are drafted from scratch. But does anyone draft contracts from scratch?  What if we live in a world where 99.9% of contracts are made up provisions cut and paste from prior deals; provisions that are assumed to cover all the key contingencies, but not necessarily understood (or even read)? In this latter world, where there are lots of provisions that the parties to the transaction never fully focused on (let alone understood), might there be an argument – in cases where there are interpretive disputes -- for the use of a contract provision’s history? Might that history not sometimes be more relevant than the non-understandings of the parties as to what they did or did not understand they were contracting for? (Among the few pieces that wrestle with this question are these two gems: Lee Buchheit's Contract Paleontology here and Mark Weidemaier's Indiana Jones: Contract Originalist here)

I’m not sure what the answer to the foregoing question is. But it intrigues me.  And it connects to a wonderfully fresh new body of research in Contract Law where a number of scholars have been studying the production process for modern contracts.  The list of papers and scholars here is too long to do justice to and I’ll just end up making mistakes if I try to do a list.  But what unites this group of contract scholars is that for them it isn’t enough to assume that contracts show up fully formed at the time of a deal, purely the product of the brilliant minds of the deal makers who anticipate nearly every possible contingency at the start.  Instead, understanding what provisions show up in a contract, and in what formulation, requires understanding the contract production process. (Barak Richman's delightful "Contracts Meet Henry Ford" (here) is, to my mind, foundational).

It is perhaps too early to tell whether this research will catch on and revolutionize contract law. I hope it does, but I’m biased.

One of my favorite papers in this new body of contract scholarship showed up recently on ssrn. It is John Coyle’s “A History of the Choice-of-Law Clause” (here). I have rarely found a piece of legal scholarship so compelling.  The paper is not only a model of clarity in terms of the writing, but it is brave. It is completely unapologetic in not only taking on an entirely new mode of research (a painstaking documentation of the historical evolution of the most important terms in any and every contract), but in coming up with a cool and innovative research technique for unpacking that history (this project would have been impossible to do without that innovation).

Continue reading "Coyle on Studying the History of a Contract Provision" »

Ramming Bow Contracts

posted by Mitu Gulati

Have you heard of Ramming Bows? Or did you know that they describe a category of boilerplate contract provisions?  Until a couple of weeks ago, I had not either.  That was when I came across Glenn West’s two delightful blog posts at the Weil Gotshal & Manges site (here and here). Glenn is a senior partner in the Private Equity/M&A practice at Weil. And in his spare time, he writes wonderfully witty blog posts and articles about wide range of legal issues; many of which are about the bizarre world of sophisticated boilerplate contracting.  Even if you have no interest in contract law, let alone boilerplate contracts, I suspect that you will enjoy his writing.  It is insightful about the way in which contracts get produced and evolve in the real world and, even better, is funny.

Continue reading "Ramming Bow Contracts" »

What Is "Credit"? AfterPay, Earnin', and ISAs

posted by Adam Levitin
A major issue in consumer finance regulation in mid-20th century was what counted as “credit” and was therefore subject to state usury laws and (after 1968) to the federal Truth in Lending Act. Many states had a time-price differential doctrine that held that when a retailer sold goods for future payment, the differential between the price of a cash sale and that of credit sale was not interest for usury law purposes. State retail installment loan acts began to override the time-price doctrine, however, and the federal Truth in Lending Act and regulations thereunder eventually made clear that for its purposes the difference was a “finance charge” that had to be disclosed in a certain way. 
 
Today, we seem to be coming back full circle to the question of what constitutes “credit.” We’re seeing this is three different product contexts: buy-now-pay-later products like Afterpay; and payday advance products like Bridgit, Dave, and Earnin’; and Income-Sharing Agreements or ISAs (used primarily for education financing). Each of these three product types has a business model that is based on it not being subject to some or all “credit” regulation. Whether those business models are well-founded legally is another matter.
 
Let me briefly recap what is “credit” for different regulatory purposes and then turn to its application to the types of products.

Continue reading "What Is "Credit"? AfterPay, Earnin', and ISAs" »

Elizabeth Warren & the Dow Corning Bankruptcy: Nothing to See

posted by Adam Levitin

The Washington Post has a story about Senator Elizabeth Warren’s involvement in the Dow Corning bankruptcy that implies that Senator Warren was somehow working against the interests of personal injury victims. That’s rubbish, and it’s frankly irresponsible reporting that fundamentally fails to understand the bankruptcy process and leaves out a critical fact.

Bankruptcies are complicated, so let me relate the Dow Corning story and then what we know of Senator Warren’s minimal involvement. Bottom line is that this is a complete nothing burger, much like the previous Washington Post story with the shocking headline (much mocked, and now amended) that then-Professor Warren had billed [a below-market] rate of $675/hr for her legal work

Here's the properly related story in a nutshell: Senator Warren did some minimal work in support of a deal to ensure compensation for tort victims that was supported by the overwhelming majority (94%) of those tort victims and that was approved by a federal court. That’s a good thing that deserves praise, not some implicit shade.  Alas, the Post doesn't bother to mention the tort victim support for the plan. 

Continue reading "Elizabeth Warren & the Dow Corning Bankruptcy: Nothing to See" »

Reparations Claims by the Herero and Nama Against Germany

posted by Mitu Gulati

About two years ago, in 2017, an intriguing lawsuit was filed under the Alien Tort Claims Act in New York. It was filed by members of the Herero and Nama tribes for the genocide of their ancestors that took place in what is now known as Namibia. In March this year, Judge Laura Taylor Swain, who readers of this blog may know from the Puerto Rican financial drama, ruled that the claims against Germany were barred by that nation’s right of sovereign immunity. As an aside, having oversight of the Puerto Rican debt debacle is not Judge Swain’s only connection to sovereign debt lore – she also sits in the judgeship vacated by none other than Judge Thomas Griesa of pari passu infamy. For accounts of the above mentioned class action by the Herero and Nama, see here and here. (Lawsuits on roughly similar grounds had been attempted earlier as well; see here).

This outcome is probably not surprising for anyone who has followed the fate of human rights litigation over the past few years brought under the Alien Tort Claims Act. Basically, under the direction of the Supreme Court, the possibilities for victims of human rights violations that took place overseas to foreigners with no more than minimal connections to the US (in terms of the claims themselves) have been severely curtailed.

My reason for bringing this up is that this is a history that I knew little about until I started coming across references to the genocide in Namibia in accounts of the Congo where, similar horrors were taking place in the 1890s and early 1900s under King Leopold of Belgium (Joseph Blocher and I have been working on the question of contemporary implications for international law of the transfer of control that took place after the genocide in the Congo (here)). Still though, these references didn’t give me anything close to a sense of how horrific things had been there.

That is, until I came across this case and began reading the filings in more detail. And one of the most interesting pieces I’ve found is by German scholar Matthias Goldman that both uses original archival research to describes the events that took place and uses them to question our contemporary understanding of the law of sovereignty. The law of sovereignty, as with all of customary international law, is based on assumptions (often faulty – as Matthias shows in this case) about history. The article, “The Entanglement of Property and Sovereignty in International Law”, is short and eminently readable (here). Matthias, who many slipsters know because of his work on sovereign debt matters, has not only been writing on the topic of the genocide in South Western Africa but has also been involved in the court case (he filed an affidavit in the Herero and Nama lawsuit).

I hope that Judge Swain’s decision is not the end of the road for the claims of reparations by the Herero and Nama. Maybe they will have better fortune with a filing in a German court?

Home Contract Financing and Black Wealth

posted by Alan White

A remarkable new quantitative study finds that over two decades, African American home buyers in Chicago lost between $3 and $4 billion in wealth because of credit apartheid. The study authors from research centers at Duke, UIC and Loyola-Chicago reviewed property records for more than 3,000 Chicago homes. During the 1950s and 1960s, up to 95% of homes sold to black buyers were financed with land installment sale contracts rather than mortgages. Mortgage loans were largely unavailable due to continued redlining by banks and the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). Instead, a limited group of speculators bought homes for cash and resold them with large price markups to newcomers in the Great Migration. The interest rates for  land installment contracts were several points higher than comparable mortgage loans offered to whites. Thus, black home buyers were overcharged for the home price and the interest rate they paid compared with similar white home buyers. The authors quantify this as a 141% race tax on housing.

Buyers financing homes with installment land contracts also face greater risks of losing their homes and accumulated equity than buyers with a deed and mortgage purchase, for reasons we teach, or ought to teach, in any Property Law or Real Estate class in law school. A missed payment on a land contract can mean quick eviction, while a homeowner behind on a mortgage is protected in many states by foreclosure procedures and redemption rights. More importantly, when a bank, FHA or other lender finances a home, the lender has strong incentives to protect the buyer and itself from defective home conditions or title problems. Those protections are missing from the installment land contract financing structure. The Duke study did not include the cost of premature evictions, home repairs, and title problems experienced by black contract buyers, all of which would further magnify the wealth gap between white and black home buyers. 

The Curious Persistence of Plan B (Bankruptcy Lite)

posted by Jason Kilborn

I've come across a phenomenon numerous times over the years, again recently, that reveals the purpose of and resistance to discharge as the ultimate solution/relief for bankruptcy. In a discussion of the Chinese Supreme People's Court's struggles with "the enforcement difficulty" (执行难), the writers observe that, if a judgment debtor is found by the court enforcement division to have no available assets against which to collect a judgment, the enforcement action is terminated ... but "the court will automatically check every six months whether the involved judgment debtors have new property." On the one hand, the termination of fruitless enforcement actions sounds something like bankruptcy relief. Assuming the process actually works like this, and assuming the court enforcement division is not overly aggressive in pursuing "new property," this seems to me to take some of the pressure off of the Chinese system to adopt a proper bankruptcy discharge to alleviate the suffering of insolvent judgment debtors. On the other hand, without a discharge, the "checking for new property" part ensures that debtors' incentives to be productive will remain perpetually depressed, and official resources will be perpetually wasted in interminable pursuit of phantom new assets. These debtors' productivity and entrepreneurialism is forever lost to Chinese society in an era in which global competition continues to heat up.

Continue reading "The Curious Persistence of Plan B (Bankruptcy Lite)" »

New (From the Archives) Paper on Determinants of Personal Bankruptcy

posted by Melissa Jacoby

This working paper is a longitudinal empirical study of lower-income homeowners, including a subset of bankruptcy filers, produced with an interdisciplinary team of cross-campus colleagues, including Professor Roberto Quercia, director of UNC's Center for Community Capital. We just posted this version on SSRN for the first time yesterday in light of continued interest in its questions and findings. The abstract does not give too much detail (see the paper for that), but here it is:

Personal Bankruptcy Decisions Before and After Bankruptcy Reform

Abstract

We examine the personal bankruptcy decisions of lower-income homeowners before and after the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act (BAPCPA). Econometric studies suggest that personal bankruptcy is explained by financial gain rather than adverse events, but data constraints have hindered tests of the adverse events hypothesis. Using household level panel data and controlling for the financial benefit of filing, we find that stressors related to cash flow, unexpected expenses, unemployment, health insurance coverage, medical bills, and mortgage delinquencies predict bankruptcy filings a year later. At the federal level, the 2005 Bankruptcy Reform explains a decrease in filings over time in counties that experienced lower filing rates.

New Paper: Consumer Protection After the Global Financial Crisis

posted by Melissa Jacoby

Historian Ed Balleisen and I have just posted a paper of interest to Credit Slips readers who are interested in consumer protection, financial crises, and inputs into post-crisis policymaking more generally. I will let the abstract speak for itself:

Consumer Protection After the Global Financial Crisis

Edward J. Balleisen & Melissa B. Jacoby

Abstract

Like other major events, the Global Financial Crisis generated a large and diffuse body of academic analysis. As part of a broader call for operationalizing the study of crises as policy shocks and resulting responses, which inevitably derail from elegant theories, we examine how regulatory protagonists approached consumer protection after the GFC, guided by six elements that should be considered in any policy shock context. After reviewing the introduction and philosophy of the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection, created as part of the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010, we consider four examples of how consumer protection unfolded in the crises’ aftermath that have received less attention. Our case studies investigate a common set of queries. We sought to identify the parties who cared sufficiently about a given issue to engage with it and try to shape policy, as well as the evolving nature of the relevant policy agenda. We also looked for key changes in policy, which could be reflected in various forms—whether establishing an entirely new regulatory agency, formulating novel enforcement strategies, or deflecting policy reforms.


The first of our case studies focuses on operations of the Federal Trade Commission in the GFC’s aftermath. Although the Dodd-Frank Act shifted some obligations toward the CFPB, we find that the FTC continued to worry about and seek to address fraud against consumers. But it tended to focus on shady practices that arose in response to the GFC rather than those that facilitated it. Our second case study examines the Congressional adoption of a carveout from CFPB authority for auto dealers, which resulted from strong lobbying by car companies worried about a cratering sales environment, and the aftermath of the policy. Here, we observe that this carveout allowed a significant amount of troubling auto lending activity to continue and expand, with potentially systemic consequences. Loan servicer misbehavior, particularly in the form of robosigning, is the focus of our third case study. Although Dodd-Frank did not explicitly address robosigning, the new agency it created, the CFPB, was able to draw on its broad authority to address this newly arising problem. And, because the CFPB had authority over student loan servicers, the agency could pivot relatively quickly from the mortgage context to the student loan context. Our fourth and final case study is the rise and fall of Operation Choke Point, an understandably controversial interagency program, convened by the U.S. Department of Justice, which, with the GFC fresh in mind, attempted to curtail fraudulent activities by cutting off access to online payment mechanisms. Here, we see an anti-fraud effort that was particularly vulnerable to a change in presidential administration and political climate because its designers had invested little effort in building public awareness and support for the program.

The Article concludes with an overall assessment and suggestions for other focal points for which our approach would be useful. The examples span a range of other domestic and global policy contexts.

 

 

 

Congolese Elections and the Opportunity for the International Community to do the Right Thing

posted by Mitu Gulati

The Congo held elections yesterday; elections that the ruling party has kept finding excuses to postpone over the past two years.  International pressure though, forced them to be held (albeit in an incomplete fashion).  Now, the question is whether the vote counts will be done with some modicum or propriety and whether the current kleptocrats will nevertheless find some way to hold on to power in this resource rich nation with a tragic history.  The latest reports are telling us that there is already chaos and that the internet has been shut down (from the Washington Post, see here).

My interest in the Congo was spurred by a question about its sovereign debt (of course). My Duke colleague and frequent co author, Joseph Blocher, who has worked in Africa and knows my obsession with sovereign debt–and particularly the question of what is to be done about the sovereign debts incurred by despotic leaders (the “Odious Debts” problem)--got me hooked on the history of the Congo some years ago by telling me the story of the debt of the Congo Free State from the late 1800s. The debt was incurred by, and proceeds subsequently stolen by, one of the worst despots in history–King Leopold of Belgium.  He issued bonds in the millions of francs in the name of the Congo Free State and then, in 1908, when the international community forced him out because of the genocide he had engineered, the debts he had incurred in the name of his vassal state were put by the international community on to the backs of the Congolese people. When it comes to the Congo, the rest of the world has so much to be ashamed about (there is a super episode from the BBC’s The Foreign Desk here). But maybe we will do the right thing this time?

Drawing from work that Joseph and I have been doing on the Congo and the infamous 1908 forced transfer of sovereignty (here), here are some thoughts on the parallels between the events of today and of a century ago.

The scene in the Congo today is, sadly, is familiar. An unaccountable leader treats Congo as personal property, enriching himself as untold millions of Congolese labor to extract resources needed for the world’s latest technological boom. What will the international community do?

Today, the despot holding power is Joseph Kabila, the resource is coltan (used in cell phones), and the international response remains uncertain. Kabila has agreed to hold elections and step down, but he and his henchmen seem to keep finding excuses to postpone the transfer of power. 

In 1908, the leader was King Leopold, the resource was rubber (made valuable by the development of vulcanization), and the international response was extraordinary: On November 15, 1908, in response to intense pressure, Belgium bought the Congo Free State from its own king.

Today, as the world is understandably focused on the present and the future of the Congo, we should not forget the lessons of its past.

Continue reading "Congolese Elections and the Opportunity for the International Community to do the Right Thing" »

Almost Citizens -- by Sam Erman

posted by Mitu Gulati

For those of you, who like me have been following the Puerto Rican debt drama, this wonderful new book by Sam Erman of USC might be of interest.  There are many wonderful and insightful stories in this book that I was altogether unaware of, despite having spent a lot of time reading about Puerto Rico's bizarre constitutional status.  Ultimately though, the most intriguing and insightful aspect of the book, to me, was the connection that Sam draws between the strange "foreign in a domestic sense" status of Puerto Rico and the events surrounding Reconstruction from the same period of time.

Sam was supposed to come to Duke last year to present this to the seminar that I run on Race, Law & Politics with Guy Charles, but we got hit by a snow storm on the day of his talk.  My initial thought had been to cancel the discussion and move on to the next paper.  But the students in the seminar (and Guy) had liked the draft of the book so much that they asked whether we might have a session to discuss it despite the fact that Sam was not going to be able to make it to Durham any longer.  We ended up having a fun discussion with my two wonderful con law colleagues, Walter Dellinger and Joseph Blocher. Indeed, that was perhaps our best session of the term (notwithstanding my general distaste for con law discussions). 

Next week, I hope to -- after talking to Walter and Joseph more -- do a little post on the recent oral argument in the first circuit about the constitutionality of the Puerto Rican Control Board.  That case, if it comes out the way I think it might, could turn the apple cart upside down.  But I need to listen to that oral argument tape again.

Here is the official book blurb for Sam's book:

"Almost Citizens lays out the tragic story of how the United States denied Puerto Ricans full citizenship following annexation of the island in 1898. As America became an overseas empire, a handful of remarkable Puerto Ricans debated with U.S. legislators, presidents, judges, and others over who was a citizen and what citizenship meant. This struggle caused a fundamental shift in constitutional jurisprudence: away from the post-Civil War regime of citizenship, rights, and statehood and toward doctrines that accommodated racist imperial governance. Erman’s gripping account shows how, in the wake of the Spanish–American War, administrators, lawmakers, and presidents, together with judges, deployed creativity and ambiguity to transform constitutional law and interpretation over a quarter century of debate and litigation. The result is a history in which the United States and Latin America, Reconstruction and empire, and law and bureaucracy intertwine."

Seeking nominations for the Grant Gilmore Award

posted by Melissa Jacoby

GilmoreThe American College of Commercial Finance Lawyers seeks nominations for scholarly articles to be considered for the Grant Gilmore Award. It is not awarded every year, but when it is, the main criteria is "superior writing in the field of commercial finance law."  I am chairing the award committee this year, so please email me or message me on Twitter before December 14 to ensure your suggestion is considered. Especially eager to get suggestions of articles written by newer members of the academy that might otherwise be missed.

Reflections on the foreclosure crisis 10th anniversary

posted by Alan White

Before it was the global financial crisis, we called it the subprime crisis. The slow, painful recovery, and the ever-widening income and wealth inequality, are the results of policy choices made before and after the crisis. Before 2007, legislators and regulators cheered on risky subprime mortgage lending as the "democratization of credit." High-rate, high-fee mortgages transferred income massively from working- and middle-class buyers and owners of homes to securities investors.

After the crisis, policymakers had a choice, to allocate the trillions in wealth losses to investors, borrowers or taxpayers. U.S. policy was for taxpayers to lend to banks until the borrowers had finished absorbing all the losses. The roughly $400 billion taxpayers lent out to banks via the TARP bailout was mostly repaid, apart from about $30 billion in incentives paid to the mortgage industry to support about 2 million home loan modifications, and $12 billion spent to rescue the US auto industry. The $190 billion Fannie/Freddie bailout has also returned a profit to the US Treasury.  Banks recovered quickly and are now earning $200 billion in annual profits. Of course, equity investors, particularly those wiped out by Lehman and many other bankruptcies, or by the global downturn generally, lost trillions as well. The long-term impact, however, was to shift corporate debt to government balance sheets, while leaving households overleveraged.

Thomas Herndon has calculated that 2008-2014 subprime mortgage modifications added $20 billion to homeowner debt (eroding wealth by $20 billion). In other words, all the modification and workout programs of the Bush and Obama administrations did not reduce homeowner debt by a penny. In fact, mortgage lenders added $20 billion (net) fees and interest onto the backs of distressed homeowners. During the same period, $600 billion in foreclosure losses were written off by private mortgage-backed securities investors, implying a similar or greater loss in wealth for foreclosed homeowners. These data include only the private-label side of the housing finance market; adding the debt increase and wealth losses for Fannie and Freddie homeowners could conceivably double the totals.

Nearly 9 million homes were foreclosed from 2007 to 2016. While some were investor-owned, even those often resulted in the eviction of tenant families. Four and one-half million homeowners still remain underwater, i.e. owe more mortgage debt than the value of their home.

 While baby boomers' housing wealth was decimated by foreclosures and increasing mortgage debt, millennials piled on student loan debt, closing the door to home buying and asset building. A recovery built on incomplete deleveraging, and new waves of consumer debt buildup, contains the seeds of the next crisis. While various pundits bemoan the resurgent federal fiscal debt, we would do well to address policies that continue to stoke unsustainable household debt.

Trump socialism and housing finance

posted by Alan White

Various tax law scholars have commented on the tax fraud allegations in the recent New York Times story. Equally important is the story's reminder that our housing finance system, and the real estate fortunes it has spawned, have depended for nearly a century on the largess of government.

Fred Trump, the president's father, built the fortune that Donald Trump inherited after avoiding or evading millions in estate and gift taxes.  Fred's fortune was almost entirely due to his savvy exploitation of federal government housing subsidies. When Roosevelt's New Dealers struggled to put the economy back on its feet, they invented the FHA mortgage insurance program, and Fred Trump was one of FHA's first profiteers. As recounted in Gwenda Blair's wonderful book, Fred went from building one house at a time to building Huge middle-class apartment complexes when he was first able to tap into government-backed FHA loans.  Screen Shot 2018-10-15 at 10.40.49 AM

 In his fascinating 1954 testimony before the Senate Banking Committee (begins at p. 395), Fred Trump explains how he purchased the land for the Beach Haven apartments for roughly $200,000, put the land in trust for his children and paid gift taxes on a $260,000 land valuation, and then obtained a a $16 million FHA mortgage to build the apartments.  Fred's corporation owning the buildings netted $4 million from the loan proceeds above and beyond the construction costs, and the land belonging to the Trump childrens' trust was valued by the City tax assessors at $1.3 million as a result of the FHA mortgage transaction and apartment construction. In other words, Fred Trump parlayed his $200,000 investment into a $4 million cash profit for his business and a $1.3 million ground lease producing $60,000 annual income for his children. In his testimony he conceded that this would have been impossible without the FHA government loan guarantee.

Peter Dreier and Alex Schwartz have written a nice exposé of the irony in President Trump's proposals to slash the very government housing finance subsidies to which he owes his personal fortune.

World Bank Group's Proposals on Small Business Insolvency

posted by Jason Kilborn

At long last, the World Bank Group's insolvency and debt resolution team has finally released to the public its report on the treatment of the insolvency of micro-, small-, and medium-sized enterprises, Saving Entrepreneurs, Saving Enterprises : Proposals on the Treatment of MSME Insolvency. The team worked for over a year on this report, concluding with a meeting of its Insolvency & Creditor/Debtor Regimes Task Force in May in Washington, D.C., where the report and its proposals were vetted. There was a surprising degree of consensus on the proposals developed here, and the final version reflects a fairly widely shared viewpoint on three key points.

Continue reading "World Bank Group's Proposals on Small Business Insolvency" »

Orwellian Debt Collection in China

posted by Jason Kilborn

Trying to get a handle on the potential for a workable personal bankruptcy procedure in China, I've repeatedly encountered evidence that the most important element might be lacking: attitude. Successful personal insolvency systems around the world differ in design and operation, but the system architects and operators generally share a sense that default is an inevitable aspect of consumer/entrepreneurial risk, and mitigating the long-term effects of such defaults is good for debtors, creditors, and society. I don't get the sense, based on my admittedly superficial outsider perspective, that this foundation is ready in China. Indeed, quite the opposite. 

For example, for the past few years, the Supreme People's Court has run a "judgment defaulter's list" of individuals who have failed (been unable?) to satisfy judgments against them. More than 3 million names were on this list already by the end of 2015, and getting on this list means more than just public shaming; it's also a "no-fly" list, preventing defaulters from buying airplane tickets, in addition to a "no-high-speed-train" and "no-hotel-stay" list, and also a "no-sending-your-kids-to-paid-schools" list. By mid-2016, about 5 million people had been preventing from buying these services in China as a result of being on the list. This initiative is just the start of a planned "Social Credit System," which will aggregate electronic data (including not only payment history, but also buying habits, treatment of one's parents, and who one's associates are) to produce a "social credit score" for all individuals. This score will affect all manner of life events, such as access not only to loans, but also to housing access, work promotions, honors, and other social benefits. The potential problems with data integrity (including inaccurate data), among many other challenges, are discussed in this fascinating paper by Yongxi Chen and Anne Sy Cheung of the Univ. of Hong Kong

Continue reading "Orwellian Debt Collection in China" »

More on Madden

posted by Adam Levitin

I have a more refined piece on the problems with the Madden fix bills in the American Banker.  See here for my previous thoughts. 

Guess Who's Supporting Predatory Lending?

posted by Adam Levitin

Guess who’s sponsoring legislation to facilitate predatory lending? It’s not just the usual suspects from the GOP, but it looks like a number of centrist “New Democrats” are signing up to help predatory financial institutions evade consumer protections. 

Yup, you heard me right: Democrats. Ten years after the financial crisis, it seems like we’ve gone back to the mistakes of the Clinton years when centrist Democrats rode the financial deregulatory bandwagon. What I’m talking about is the McHenry-Meeks Madden “fix” bill, the “Protecting Consumers’ Access to Credit Act of 2017”. The bill effectively preempts state usury laws for non-bank finance companies like payday lenders in the name of ensuring access to credit, even if on extremely onerous terms.

Right now there's only one Democratic co-sponsor, but others seem to be preparing to join in. They shouldn't, and if they do sign onto this bill, it should only be in exchange for some solid consumer protections to substitute for the preempted state usury laws. This bill should be seen as a test of whether New Democrats "get it" about financial regulation. I'm hoping that they do. If not, perhaps its time to find some new Democrats.   

Continue reading "Guess Who's Supporting Predatory Lending?" »

Judge Selection in Municipal Bankruptcy and PROMESA

posted by Melissa Jacoby

In light of the timeline on the Puerto Rico debt situation, I have just posted on SSRN a contribution to the ABLJ/ABA symposium last fall. The paper examines PROMESA's judicial selection requirements applicable to a Puerto Rico Title III filing (the equivalent of a bankruptcy), and puts them in the context of municipal bankruptcy history.  This paper can be downloaded here.

Everything You Wanted to Know About Bond Workouts But Were Afraid to Ask

posted by Adam Levitin

There's a great new paper available on out-of-court restructuring and the Trust Indenture Act.   The New Bond Workouts is up on SSRN.  From the abstract it sounds pretty darn amazing—a new, empirically based analysis of bond restructurings that rediscovers a long-forgotten intercreditor duty of good faith: 

Continue reading "Everything You Wanted to Know About Bond Workouts But Were Afraid to Ask" »

Swindlers and Crooks Doing Backflips: New Balleisen Book on Fraud

posted by Melissa Jacoby

BalleisenBookNot a moment too soon, Princeton University Press has just released Fraud: An American History from Barnum to Madoff by historian & Duke University Vice Provost Ed Balleisen. (Some readers might be familiar with his earlier book on bankruptcy in Antibellum America).

As I learned when reviewing an earlier draft, Fraud is meticulously researched and completely fascinating, with plenty of careful attention to law and regulatory structures. The book's other virtues are well encapsulated by Kirkus:

"Balleisen casts a gimlet eye on the passing parade of hucksters and charlatans, peppering a narrative long on theory with juicy asides that build toward a comprehensive catalog of ‘Old Swindles in New Jargon’. . . . Ranging among the disciplines of history, economics, and psychology, Balleisen constructs a sturdy narrative of the many ways in which we have fallen prey to the swindler, and continue to do so, as well as of how American society and its institutions have tried to build protections against the con. But these protections eventually run up against accusations of violating ‘longstanding principles of due process,’ since the bigger the con, the more lawyers arrayed behind it."--Kirkus

Although it starts in the 19th Century, the book's breadth includes our recent "deregulatory" decades and the impact of that approach on fraud containment.  A book for our life and times for sure.

 

Chapter 9's Cabinet of Constitutional Curiosities: Ongoing Constitutional Violations

posted by Melissa Jacoby

Just a handful of modern big-city bankruptcies have revealed foundational questions about chapter 9's fit within federal courts and constitutional jurisprudence. Given that chapter 9 no longer is simply an adjustment of bond debt, bankrupt cities restructure a wide range of claims in their plans, including those arising from long-lingering disputes; to this point, a Ninth Circuit panel just heard oral argument on a dispute from Stockton's exercise of its eminent domain power twelve years before Stockton filed its chapter 9 petition, only to put the case on hold pending rehearing en banc of a chapter 11 equitable mootness dispute. But my commentary today focuses on the impact of events and decisions during a bankruptcy case. If cases no longer must be prepackaged, a city's decisionmakers have a longer period of automatic stay protection during which to act in ways that might generate controversy, causes of action, or both.

Recall, for example, Detroit's headline-making residential water shutoff policies and practices. The bankruptcy court used informal control to coax the city into increasing protections for low-income residents. In response to an adversary proceeding requesting more formal intervention, the bankruptcy court held it did not have the power to enter an order enjoining the policy or directing changes. But Judge Rhodes' analysis included a significant caveat: in a follow-up written ruling, Judge Rhodes held that section 904 of the Bankruptcy Code does not shield a municipal debtor from injunctions of ongoing constitutional violations:

The Court concludes that § 904 does not protect the City from the bankruptcy court's jurisdiction over the plaintiffs' constitutional claims because the City does not have the "governmental power" to violate the due process and equal protection mandates of the Constitution [citations omitted]. The City must comply with those constitutional mandates [citation omitted]. Accordingly, the Court concludes that those claims, unlike the plaintiffs' other claims, do survive the City's § 904 challenge.

Lyda v. City of Detroit, 2014 WL 6474081 at *5 (Bankr. E.D. Mich., Nov. 19, 2014). That holding did not get the Lyda plaintiffs far because, according to the court, the allegations failed to state a constitutional claim on which relief could be granted. The adversary proceeding was dismissed. Judge Rhodes' decision rightly signaled, though, that a municipal bankruptcy petition is not a license to engage in constitutional violations without consequence. The district court had affirmed the ruling. Lyda v. City of Detroit, 2015 WL 5461463 (E.D. Mich. Sept. 16, 2015).

Last week, the Sixth Circuit reversed the portion of the bankruptcy court's decision on the relationship between section 904 and alleged ongoing constitutional harms. The reversal did not change the outcome for the parties, but generates a troubling question: can municipal bankruptcy allow a city to continue to violate constitutional rights with no redress? Surely the answer must be "no"?

Continue reading "Chapter 9's Cabinet of Constitutional Curiosities: Ongoing Constitutional Violations" »

Join us for the "The NCBJ at 90"

posted by Melissa Jacoby

ABLJInfoWill you be in San Francisco for the National Conference of Bankruptcy Judges annual meeting and related events? Please mark your calendars now for Thursday October 27, 3:oo pm Pacific Time: a special educational session honoring the 90th anniversary of the NCBJ.* We (Profs. Gebbia, Simkovic, Pottow, and me, with great guidance and input from Judge Colleen Brown and Judge Mel Hoffman) will be discussing original historical research on bankruptcy courts and bankruptcy law conducted for this occasion. Early abstracts can be found on the NCBJ blog. In the meantime, Prof. Gebbia has been posting quizzes; I suspect some Credit Slips readers would ace these tests, but you won't know until you try!

So please do join us on October 27 to be part of this commemoration and conversation.

* The mission of the NCBJ, according to its website, is:

The National Conference of Bankruptcy Judges is an association of the Bankruptcy Judges of the United States which has several purposes: to provide continuing legal education to judges, lawyers and other involved professionals, to promote cooperation among the Bankruptcy Judges, to secure a greater degree of quality and uniformity in the administration of the Bankruptcy system and to improve the practice of law in the Bankruptcy Courts of the United States.

 

Puerto Rico: Debt Restructuring and Takings Law

posted by Melissa Jacoby

ConstitutionPer the last words of my PROMESA post, click here for an interview with Professor Charles Tabb, who discusses the (limited) impact of the Takings Clause on debt restructuring and moratorium legislation. 

Constitution image courtesy of Shutterstock.com

Puerto Rico: The Recovery Act's Potential Second Wind

posted by Melissa Jacoby

 

This post continues the long-running Credit Slips discussion of Puerto Rico's Recovery Act, now the subject of U.S. Supreme Court review in Puerto Rico v. Franklin California Tax-Free Trust, 15-233, as indicated in Lubben's recent post and in last week's preview. In the video above, posted with permission of the American Bankruptcy Institute, I interview Bill Rochelle, who was at the Supreme Court for oral argument and makes some intriguing predictions on the vote, timing of issuing the opinion, judicial selection, and other matters. A few more reflections below the break.

Continue reading "Puerto Rico: The Recovery Act's Potential Second Wind " »

Lessons for Puerto Rico from ... Arkansas?

posted by Jason Kilborn

I did not realize that a US state had defaulted on its bonds, offering a historical comparative example of the difficulties facing Puerto Rico, its creditors, and mostly its citizens if the mess there is not subjected to an orderly, judicially supervised debt cleanup process of some kind. In a new working paper from the Cleveland Fed, O. Emre Ergungor tells the interesting story of the Depression-era default by Arkansas on various road construction bonds and its messy and politically charged path to a workout. A couple of apparent lessons are troubling. First, reaffirming the aphorism that $#!@ rolls downhill, most of the pain was suffered by Arkansas citizens and ordinary creditors, with bondholders pulling every available lever to ensure a soft landing for themselves. Ergungor sums up this lesson nicely: "in the absence of a dedicated judicial process for preserving the governmental functions of a state in debt renegotiations, sovereignty offers meager protections for the interests of the general public." Second, in a prophetic warning about bailouts, Ergungor describes the intervention of the federal Reconstruction Finance Corporation to provide liquidity for a refinancing of the workout bonds years later. As one would expect, a Chicago Tribune article took the feds to task for helping Arkansas in this way, insisting that the RFC chief "ought to be willing to to do as much for Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Iowa, and all the rest of the states." I know Illinois would surely appreciate some federal support for its current behemoth pension burden. If the Executive intervenes in the Puerto Rico situation today, will we see another Tribune article like the one that criticized selective federal intervention for Arkansas? Does it matter that, technically, it is Puerto Rico's sub-units that are in distress, not the Territory itself? I struggle to understand even what all the issues are in the Puerto Rico debate, but Ergungor's paper helps me to put at least the financial problems in some useful context.

Puerto Rico Symposium: Of Wills and Ways

posted by Melissa Jacoby

JigsawDebt relief without Congress? No one promised it would be pretty.  

Our brainstorm (remember the ground rules) has included Levitin's MacGyver-inspired local currency, eminent domain, and liberally-interpreted exchange stabilization, Weidemaier's use of COFINA doubts to wedge open the door for a Executive Branch/Puerto Rico partnership, and, thanks to economist Arturo Estrella, a long menu of options with examples, summarized succinctly as "where there is a will, there is a way" (p. 1) (english report at bottom of this page). Could the federal government underwrite new bonds in an exchange offer, asks Pottow? Be the mediator with a big stick, asks Lubben?  Might a holdout creditor be liable to shareholders if it rebuffed a reasonable deal, asks Jiménez? (scroll to the comments). Marc Joffe notes the potential analogy of the City of Hercules tender offer (as well as the fact that Levitin's local currency suggestion has a history from the Depression). 

Lawless reminds us of the risks associated with discriminatory treatment of Puerto Rico's debt and access to legal tools. Of course, there is a long history here. Maria de los Angeles Trigo points to UT professor Bartholomew Sparrow's study of the Insular cases. And while most expect debt relief will be conditioned on some sort of fiscal oversight, it needs to be designed in a way to avoid the foibles of the past.

Returning to Lubben's mediation theme, let's push the brainstorming a step farther: could Treasury appoint a federal judge, such as Chief District Judge Gerald Rosen (E.D. Mich.), to oversee the mediation, and demand that all creditors participate in good faith until released? Even in the absence of legal authority for this move, would creditors formally object or fail to show up? 

Thanks to participants and readers for active involvement so far, and please keep your thoughts and reactions coming this way.  

Puzzle photo courtesy of Shutterstock.com

That OTHER Consumer Agency: Why the FTC remains important

posted by Katie Porter

Hoofnagle bookSince the launch of the CFPB, we haven't blogged as frequently at Credit Slips about the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). It remains hard at work, and in fact, I think has used some of the shift of some of its responsibilities to the CFPB to focus on a number of cutting edge issues. For example, their conferences and reports on big data analytics are top notch.

Chris Hoofnagle, UC Berkeley, has written an excellent book about the FTC and its approach to privacy. In part, it is an institutional history, using the FTC Act's passage and the advertising cases of the 1960s and 1970s to understand how and why the FTC is approaching privacy concerns today. The digital economy, the socialization and personalization of consumer finance, and alternative scoring algorithms all present new questions for privacy law. His thoughts on how the FTC developed in reaction to troubling applications of the common law are particularly useful in thinking about how courts might interpret new issues created by CFPB regulations. Business practitioners, consumer advocates, and academics will all benefit from Hoofnagle's analysis.

FTC Privacy Law and Policy also contains a look at the FTC's role in policing credit reporting agencies and the credit reporting regulations. Hoofnagle is even-handed, pointing to both successes and weaknesses on that front.

This is definitely worth a read, and I'm happy that it's available in paperback at an affordable price. I think the book also would make a great foundational text in a seminar on consumer law.

Unhappy Birthday, BAPCPA

posted by Adam Levitin

BAPCPA's been in effect for 10 years now. I still remember the day before it went into effect, seeing round the block lines at the Wilmington courthouse as consumers rushed to file. 

There's lots to say about BAPCPA, for both consumers and businesses, but it boils down to this: it's not a fine wine and hasn't improved with age. The vinegar only gets more sour. 

Glass-Steagall: It's the Politics, Stupid!

posted by Adam Levitin

It was like eight nights of Chanukkah in one for me watching the Democratic debate last night. There was a Glass-Steagall lovefest going on. But here's the thing:  no one seems to get why Glass-Steagall was important or the connection between Glass-Steagal and the financial crisis. The importance of Glass-Steagall was not as a financial firewall between speculative investment activities and safe deposits. It was as a political Berlin Wall keeping the different sectors of the financial industry from uniting in their lobbying efforts and disturbing the peace of the nation.

Until and unless we realize that the importance of Glass-Steagall was political, we're going to continue wasting our time debating insufficient half-measures of financial regulation like the Volcker Rule, which has the financial, but not the political benefits of Glass-Steagall. More critically, we're going to pass regulations like the Volcker Rule and then wonder slack-jawed why they don't work, as the financial industry undermines them through the regulatory implementation and legislative amendments. Financial regulation is just not that complex technically, even if if has a lot of technical rules (it's the capital, stupid!). The problem we face is not technical, but political.

Continue reading "Glass-Steagall: It's the Politics, Stupid!" »

It Is Very Expensive To Be Poor

posted by Pamela Foohey

How BanksCash checking fees, prepaid card fees, money transfer fees, cashier's check fees -- all together, the unbanked pay up to 10% of their income simply to use their own money. And when lower-income people face an emergency, they must turn to expensive payday loans, title loans, and tax refund loans. As Mehrsa Baradaran (University of Georgia) writes in her new book, How the Other Half Banks: Exclusion, Exploitation, and the Threat to Democracy, "indeed, it is very expensive to be poor."

How did this happen? And how might we begin to solve the problem? In her book, Baradaran details how banks and government are and always have been inextricably tied, with the government helping banks and the banks supposedly helping the public in return. But this "social contract" has eroded. The banking sector has turned away from less profitable markets, leaving people with small sums of money to deposit without a trustworthy place to stash their cash, and people in need of small sums of money to borrow nowhere to turn but fringe lenders. Moreover, these people understandably often are uncomfortable dealing with large banks. And the result is that an astonishing large chunk of the American population is unbanked or underbanked.

If the unbanked and underbanked had a trustworthy place to deposit their cash, some of the fees they pay simply to use their money would go away. This alone might allow families to stay financially afloat. Likewise, if they had the option to borrow small sums of money at reasonable rates, temporary financial emergencies may not set so many families up for a lifetime of financial failure. Which leads Baradaran to a proposal that I’m fond of (indeed, I’ve blogged about Baradaran’s thoughts on it before): postal banking.

Continue reading "It Is Very Expensive To Be Poor" »

Bankruptcy in Russia, 1740-1800, and the First Non-Merchant Discharge!

posted by Jason Kilborn

Boyar creditorI discovered something surprising in my summer research on the history of bankruptcy in Russia: It seems that the first modern, court-ordered bankruptcy discharge available to non-merchant debtors appeared not in the US or England, but Russia, in 1800. I suspect the relief offered was largely theoretical, but I found it shocking and intriguing that a discharge appeared in Imperial Russian law that early on. The law will finally come full circle in October 2015, when the new Russian law on personal insolvency becomes effective. It's been a long time coming!

As in England, bankruptcy law in Russia started from a much more hostile and punitive position toward debtors. In the Charter on Bankrupts of 15 December 1740 (law no. 8300, available online here), debtors who fell into distress through no fault of their own were to be released from debtor's prison and not fined (s. 19), while debtors whose fault contributed to their downfall (e.g., by continuing to trade while insolvent) were to be fined and executed by hanging (ss. 31-32). Luckily for debtors, this law was apparently ignored in practice and was replaced in 1753 with a new law (without a death penalty) by Peter the Great's daughter, Elizabeth. 

A more radical departure from past practice appeared in the landmark Charter on Bankrupts of 19 December 1800 (law no. 19,692, available online here). This law for the first time drew a distinction between merchant and non-merchant debtors, making bankruptcy relief available to the latter in a distinct Part Two.

Continue reading "Bankruptcy in Russia, 1740-1800, and the First Non-Merchant Discharge!" »

More on AIG: Between Hysteria and Complacency

posted by Anna Gelpern

I agree with Adam about all that post-Starr hyperventilation. No, it does not mean that bailouts are over, that the Fed has been slapped down, or any of that lurid stuff. (Though tabloidness does feel strangely gratifying in financial journalism.) Nevertheless, we should be careful not to dismiss the AIG decision as a realist vignette. Its implications for crisis management will become clearer over time, and may well turn out to be important.

At first blush, Starr feels like a stock crisis move by the Court of Claims, evoking the Gold Clause cases in 1935, where the U.S. Supreme Court held that the Congress violated the 14th amendment when it stripped gold clauses from U.S. Government debt, but denied Court of Claims jurisdiction because the creditors suffered no damages. Had they gotten the gold, they would have had to hand it right over to the Feds. And if you measured the creditors' suffering in purchasing power terms, getting their nominal dollars back still put them way ahead of where they had been in 1918 thanks to all the deflation.

Putting this history together with Starr, I wonder about two implications. First, it would have to be awfully hard for a firm getting federal rescue funds in a systemic crisis to prove damages. See also the car bailout stuff. By definition, the firm's best case is the gray zone between illiquidity and insolvency (I called it "illiquency" back then). If you accept that a court is unlikely to enjoin a caper like AIG in the middle of a crisis, this gives the government a fair amount of scope to act, even if it turns out to be off on authority after the fact.

Second, the Greek mess makes me think that the real concern in crisis is not with ex ante constraints on bailouts working as planned, but rather with accidental institutional malfunction. At some point (not yet), all the sand in the wheels will create enough friction that policy makers will not be able to respond to a tail event in a sensible way. No institution would have the authority to do "whatever it takes," and no decision-maker would be willing to take the risk. Maybe this is as it should be, but it does give me pause. 

Lessons For Consumer Protection From The World Of Inclusive Capitalism

posted by David Lander

Lately I have been teaching courses with names such as "Global and Economic Justice" and "History, Impacts and Regulation of Consumer Credit" instead of "Bankruptcy," "Secured Transactions" and "Chapter 11 Reorganizations." So I have been reading different books and listening to different speakers. A lecture I attended recently by Xav Briggs  here brought to my mind a couple of books that I use in one of my courses, “Borrow” and “Debtor Nation” both written by Louis Hyman. In many ways Hyman's books remind me of "Credit Card Nation" the outstanding and "ahead of its time" book by Robert Manning which I used extensively when I created my consumer credit course in 2002. 

Part of the wisdom I find in each of these books is the caveat that you cannot understand consumer protection without understanding the nature of American capitalism or the drive for an above-market return. This was never clearer or more of a "blow to the side of the head" than during the frenzy in the early 2000's, and perhaps nothing demonstrates it more crassly than the rating agencies covering their eyes as they rated subprime securitizations allegedly in order to "keep the business." 

Continue reading "Lessons For Consumer Protection From The World Of Inclusive Capitalism " »

Insurance Capital Games and PMI Reinsurance Kickbacks

posted by Adam Levitin

The New York Times carried an important story about the risky investment moves of life insurance companies. There's a lot of good stuff in the story, but it missed an important angle, namely the consumer harm that has already resulted from bank affiliation with captive reinsurers in the private mortgage insurance space, namely inflated and unecessary private mortgage insurance premiums because of illegal kickback arrangements. 

Continue reading "Insurance Capital Games and PMI Reinsurance Kickbacks" »

A More Ancient Household Goods Rule

posted by Bob Lawless

Courtesy of Jack Ayer, professor emeritus of law and polymathy, comes the following from the Wikipedia entry on Modigliani -- Amedeo, not Franco:

Modigliani was the fourth child, whose birth coincided with the disastrous financial collapse of his father's business interests. Amedeo's birth saved the family from ruin; according to an ancient law, creditors could not seize the bed of a pregnant woman or a mother with a newborn child. The bailiffs entered the family's home just as Eugenia went into labour; the family protected their most valuable assets by piling them on top of her.

It's on Wikipedia, so who is to dispute it?

Detroit: "Now Is Not the Time for Defiant Swagger..."

posted by Melissa Jacoby

3dPuzzlePlan confirmation time. Doesn't everyone relish a big trial? Headlines in national newspapers breathlessly proclaim that the fate of Detroit's future is in the hands of one single judge!

Well, no.

Let's get literal about the judicial role at this juncture. There's no way over the finish line without a determination by the bankruptcy court that the City has met its burden of showing its plan satisfies all legal requirements by a preponderance of the evidence.

This standard includes the City showing that the plan is not likely to fail. Back in January 2014, as the parties negotiated the plan's initial version, Judge Rhodes called for restraint in creditor demands, modesty in City promises:

Now is not the time for defiant swagger or for dismissive pound-the-table, take-it-or-leave-it proposals that are nothing but a one-way ticket to Chapter 18 ... . If the plan ... promises  more to creditors than the city can reasonably be expected to pay, it will fail, and history will judge each and everyone of us accordingly.

    --Jan 22, 2014, afternoon session

Detroit's plan includes revitalization investments, and does so not merely to show how it will service its debt. That scope takes the court into a farther-reaching review.  And the judge appointed his own feasibility expert, and is planning to conduct the direct examination of the expert himself. Such factors further fuel the image of a judge as gatekeeper of Detroit's future.

Yet, no bankruptcy judge should be saddled with the full weight of longstanding socio-economic and geographic challenges. Historian Thomas Sugrue teaches us that the roots of Detroit's crisis run quite deep. Deeper than the recent past of corruption in the Kilpatrick administration, or dependence on casino revenues, interest rate swaps on certificates of participation, or questions about thirteenth checks. Even before the height of worries about auto industry competition abroad, or the enactment of Michigan constitution language on pensions. By Sugrue's account, Detroit's economic decline started in the 1940s and 1950s with hemorrhaging (his word) of good jobs and capital. For the spiral downward from there, the book is here, the speech, 19 minutes into the video, there.  Repair depends on collaborative work: many tools, many hands. How to engage all communities in the effort to conquer longstanding racial tensions and segregation, achieve regional cooperation, expand jobs that offer more security and opportunity than downtown coffee shops and sports stadiums? ("Downtown does not trickle down," said Sugrue at a Wayne State conference earlier this year; explanation here). Again, many tools, many hands.

Although these challenges illustrate how the judge's plan confirmation role operates within a much broader framework of actors, judges also can shape a municipality's restructuring and future throughout the bankruptcy process, in more informal ways. In Detroit's case, Judge Rhodes planted the seeds of oversight and influence in the earliest days of the bankruptcy. He drew on tools and techniques used decades earlier in other kinds of complex litigation, including prison reform and school desegregation cases. See here, here, here, and here.

Among the most consequential moves was delegating to Chief District Judge Rosen the authority to mediate nearly every substantive issue in the case. Detroit heads into the confirmation hearing with many settlements in its pocket - with financial creditors as well as workers and retirees. Most discussed is the pension/art settlement (a.k.a. Grand Bargain) that looks the least like a conventional mediated settlement. Chief Judge Rosen has suggested the deal could be a model for other distressed cities. On harnessing the power of the non-profit sector, maybe so. On a sitting life-tenured judge being the designer, broker, and closer of this type of deal, not so much. However socially desirable the content of the Grand Bargain may be (and that debate will rage on), the costs and risks of this procedural model are simply too great. 

So, as the last phase of the historic Detroit bankruptcy commences, the question of judicial responsibility and influence must be put in context. The role of federal judges in shaping Detroit's future has been overstated in some ways, understated in others. Trials matter. But if they capture too much of our attention, we will miss other important things.

Puzzle picture courtesy of Shutterstock

 

Lessons From Postal Banking's Past

posted by Pamela Foohey

Post OfficeMehrsa Baradaran (University of Georgia) has a short piece in Slate tracing the history of the U.S. Postal Banking system. In sum, post offices once were banks, the system was in place for over 50 years, and post offices can be banks again. Indeed, at its height, the postal banking system was used by millions of Americans. Then banks moved into the majority of cities and towns and offered customers a more attractive option than using postal savings depositories. But when these banks began leaving low-income neighborhoods in the 1970s, the postal banking system already had died a quiet death, leaving the market open to payday lenders and check cashing operations. As Adam pointed out in his op-ed in American Banker from earlier this year, and as Mehrsa's piece highlights, postal banking may be the key to the current lack of financial inclusion. The piece is a quick and interesting read.

Post office building image courtesy of Shutterstock.

"Don't give me so much that you've given me nothing" - Remembering M. Caldwell Butler's Contribution to Bankruptcy Law

posted by Melissa Jacoby

Former Virginia Congressman M. Caldwell Butler died last week. He is widely known for his role in the Nixon impeachment proceedings, his efforts to limit extensions of the Voting Rights Act, and his support for ensuring legal representation for low-income individuals. But Congressman Butler is also a major figure in the history of bankruptcy law. He was a principal co-sponsor of the Bankruptcy Reform Act of 1978 that serves as the foundation of the modern bankruptcy system. Professor and lawyer Kenneth N. Klee worked closely with Congressman Butler on the House Judiciary Committee in the 1970s. I asked Professor Klee to share a few words of remembrance with us, which I repeat in their entirety here:

I first met M. Caldwell Butler in 1975 when he became the Ranking Minority Member of the Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights of the House Judiciary Committee. Caldwell was most interested in the Voting Rights Act legislation and finding a way for the South to get out from under the Act. In his view, Washington was improperly interfering with the sovereignty of the southern states based on predicate acts that had long since ceased to serve as a basis for federal control. He asked me to draft a series of amendments that would permit the South to extricate itself from the Voting Rights Act. The requirements to regain sovereignty were quite demanding, to the point that the amendments became known as the "impossible bailout."  Nevertheless, the amendments did not come close to passing. It was evident that there were no circumstances under which the majority in Congress wanted to let the southern states out from the Voting Rights Act.

Caldwell assumed his responsibilities over bankruptcy legislation with diligence and good cheer. His fabulous sense of humor carried us through many long markup sessions during which the members of the Subcommittee read the bankruptcy legislation line by line. He had a sharp legal mind and deep curiosity. He also was very practical and to the point. He was fond of telling me "don't give me so much that you've given me nothing."

It was a privilege and honor to work with him. The bankruptcy community should join in paying him tribute.

                        -- Ken Klee

Congressman Butler made another round of contributions to bankruptcy reform in the 1990s. The fact that they are not all reflected in today's Bankruptcy Code makes this story more pressing, not less. Well over a decade after he had returned to the practice of law in Virginia, Congressman Butler was appointed to the National Bankruptcy Review Commission, for which I was a staff attorney. Expressing satisfaction with the 1978 Code, the House Judiciary Committee directed this Bankruptcy Commission to focus, for two years, on "reviewing, improving, and updating the Code in ways which do not disturb the fundamental tenets of current law."  Not one to leave the heavy lifting to others, even in a pro bono post, Congressman Butler stepped up to the challenge of forging a compromise, among those with diverging politics and views, to improve the consumer bankruptcy system.

Continue reading ""Don't give me so much that you've given me nothing" - Remembering M. Caldwell Butler's Contribution to Bankruptcy Law" »

Larry Summers' Attempt to Rewrite Cramdown History

posted by Adam Levitin

Larry Summers has a very interesting book review of Atif Mian and Amir Sufi's book House of Debt in the Financial Times. What's particularly interesting about the book review is not so much what Summers has to say about Mian and Sufi, as his attempt to rewrite history. Summers is trying to cast himself as having been on the right (but losing) side of the cramdown debate. His prooftext is a February 2008 op-ed he wrote in the Financial Times in his role as a private citizen. 

The FT op-ed was, admittedly, supportive of cramdown. But that's not the whole story. If anything, the FT op-ed was the outlier, because whatever Larry Summers was writing in the FT, it wasn't what he was doing in DC once he was in the Obama Administration.

Let's make no bones about it.  Larry Summers was not a proponent of cramdown.  At best, he was not an active opponent, but cramdown was not something Summers pushed for.  Maybe we can say that "Larry Summers was for cramdown before he was against it." 

Continue reading "Larry Summers' Attempt to Rewrite Cramdown History" »

Book Review: Jennifer Taub's Other People's Houses (Highly Recommended)

posted by Adam Levitin

I just read Jennifer Taub's outstanding book Other People's Houses, which is a history of mortgage deregulation and the financial crisis. The book makes a nice compliment to Kathleen Engel and Patricia McCoy's fantasticThe Subprime Virus. Both books tell the story of deregulation of the mortgage (and banking) market and the results, but in very different styles. What particularly amazed me about Taub's book was that she structured it around the story of the Nobelmans and American Savings Bank.

The Nobelmans?  American Savings Bank? Who on earth are they? They're the named parties in the 1993 Supreme Court case of Nobelman v. American Savings Bank, which is the decision that prohibited cramdown in Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Taub uses the Nobelmans and American Savings Banks' stories to structure a history of financial deregulation in the 1980s and how it produced (or really deepened) the S&L crisis and laid the groundwork for the housing bubble in the 2000s.

Continue reading "Book Review: Jennifer Taub's Other People's Houses (Highly Recommended)" »

Working and Living in the Shadow of Economic Fragility

posted by Melissa Jacoby

OupbookCredit Slips readers, please note the publication of a new book edited by Marion Crain and Michael Sherraden. The New America Foundation is hosting an event on the book tomorrow, Wednesday, May 28, 2014 at 12:15 EST. Not in Washington, D.C.? The event will be webcast live

The book project developed out of a stimulating multi-disciplinary conference at Washington University in St. Louis. Participants had great interest in considering how bankruptcy scholarship fits within the larger universe of research on financial insecurity and inequality. My chapter with Mirya Holman synthesizes the literature on medical problems among bankruptcy filers and presents new results from the 2007 Consumer Bankruptcy Project on coping mechanisms for medical bills, looking more closely at the one in four respondents who reported accepting a payment plan from a medical provider. Not surprisingly, these filers are far more likely than most others to bring identifiable medical debt, and therefore their medical providers, into their bankruptcy cases. We examine how payment plan users employ strategies - including but not limited to fringe and informal borrowing - to manage financial distress before resorting to bankruptcy, and (quite briefly) speculate on the future of medical-related financial distress in an Affordable Care Act world.

1924 and Today

posted by Susan Block-Lieb

History can sometimes provide a fresh perspective on current events. My years of observations at UNCITRAL led me to wonder about how working methods in this international organization compare to those of similar (some would say sister) organizations -- UNIDROIT and the Hague Conference on Private International Law. This research revealed references to work at the turn of the 20th century (1879, 1904, 1925) on an international convention on the treatment of cross-border bankruptcy cases. I was intrigued, but primary documents eluded me.

On a recent trip to London I was lucky to enough to score big in two different libraries: at the British National Archives in Kew Gardens I found 7 file folders from the British Board of Trade, circa 1924, describing preparations for participation at the Hague Conference's Fifth Session for deliberations on a draft insolvency convention; at the British Library I finally scored the long-sought records of the proceedings of these 1925 meetings at The Hague.  Nerd heaven!

Continue reading "1924 and Today" »

American Hustle

posted by Jean Braucher

If you want to understand credit and its abuses, you have to delve into the human heart, in all its weakness and strength, and literature and film are powerful ways to do so.  In this observation, I join the growing backlash (see, for example, here and here) against the philistine notion that the humanities are a waste of time.  Literature and history can teach us at least as much as the social sciences and often are better written and more insightful about the nuances of our psyches.

Arguably the most fertile period of American cultural production was the mid-19th century, when  Edgar Allan Poe, one of America’s first professional authors, examined closely the techniques of scamming, quickly joined by other literary greats such as Herman Melville and Mark Twain.  See here for my paper on this subject. Poe was also the first to link scammers’ motivations to the spirit of Wall Street.  Defining a scammer as working on a small scale, Poe also connected the dots to grand predators: “Should he ever be tempted into magnificent speculation, he then, at once, loses his distinctive features, and becomes what we term ‘financier.’”  See here for source.

David O. Russell provides a fresh take on this point in a must-see new movie—just in time for the holidays.  American Hustle’s dark wit speaks to the loss of any remaining American innocence in the lingering wake of the Great Bubble and Pop.

Set in the seedy late 1970s, the film lushly renders the world of runaway inflation, terrible clothes, shaggy hair (and comb-overs), disco fever, rising divorce rates, and rundown real estate for which the decade is remembered.   But it tells a timeless tale of raw ambition for riches and status turning every human interaction into a con.

Continue reading "American Hustle" »

Detroit's Chapter 9 and the Vanishing Umpires

posted by Melissa Jacoby


SpiralCrowd
When the Chief Judge of the Sixth Circuit selected Judge Rhodes to preside over the City of Detroit's chapter 9 case, she attached a letter from the Chief Judge of the Eastern District of Michigan. Among other things, it lauded Judge Rhodes' case management skills, and asserted the need for those skills in a case of this nature. To many, the phrase “case management” may evoke procedural judicial tasks of little normative content. But the sandwich of the two words should invite deeper questions about the role of courts, judges, judicial adjuncts, and trials, and the impact of the presence or absence of disputes playing out in public view.

Continue reading "Detroit's Chapter 9 and the Vanishing Umpires" »

Usury and the Loan Shark Myth

posted by Lauren Willis

Consumer financial education, disclosure, and defaults all dispensed with in my prior posts, shall we move on to “substantive” regulation, dare I even say “usury”? Before we do that, I need to clear up another myth that, like the belief in the efficacy of consumer financial education, is deeply ingrained: the loan shark myth.

Forthcoming in the Washington & Lee Law Review is a historical expose of the relationship – or lack thereof – between credit price regulation in the small loan market and loan sharking. The author, political scientist Robert Mayer, finds that what the popular culture has called loan sharking consists of two different types: violent and nonviolent. Both have been characterized by: (1) high prices, in excess of usury restrictions where such restrictions have applied, and (2) short-term, nonamortizing loans made to people who have a decent likelihood of being able to pay the interest amount due at maturity but a low likelihood of being able to pay off the principal balance, resulting in a steady stream of interest income to the lender as the loans roll over and over. It is this second feature that in the 19th Century first earned even nonviolent loan sharks their “shark” moniker – a single loan, even if it is expensive, looks harmless enough, but stealthily traps the borrower in a cycle of debt.

Continue reading "Usury and the Loan Shark Myth" »

Usury Laws Are Dead. Long Live the New Usury Law. The CFPB's Ability to Repay Mortgage Rule

posted by Adam Levitin

[Updated 1.14.13] The CFPB has come out with its long awaited qualified mortgage (QM) rulemaking under Title XIV of the Dodd-Frank Act.  The QM rulemaking is by far the most important CFPB action to date and will play a crucial role in determining the shape of the US housing finance market going forward. The QM rulemaking also represents a return in a new guise of the traditional form of consumer credit regulation—usury—and a move away from the 20th century’s very mixed experiment with disclosure.

Continue reading "Usury Laws Are Dead. Long Live the New Usury Law. The CFPB's Ability to Repay Mortgage Rule" »

An Empirical Overview of Modern Sovereign Debt Litigation

posted by Mark Weidemaier

In December, I attended a terrific conference examining historical parallels to the European debt crisis. I was there to talk about the early-20th century antecedents of modern collective action clauses, the magic contractual potion - or is it snake oil? - that will banish holdout litigants from the kingdom forever more. There were some really great papers, including this one (Sovereign Defaults in Court: The Rise of Creditor Litigation 1976-2010, by Julian Schumacher, Christoph Trebesch, and Henrik Enderlein), which may interest many Credit Slips readers.

One of my interests involves how changes in sovereign immunity law influence bond contracts, and I have written about that relationship here. Schumacher et al. address a related but quite distinct subject: the determinants of sovereign debt litigation. Why are some restructurings followed by a flood of lawsuits when others produce few or none? Are poorer countries more likely to be targeted? Does the size of the haircut matter? They have assembled a comprehensive dataset, which includes essentially all lawsuits filed in London and New York since the advent of the modern era of sovereign immunity (which they date to the 1976 enactment of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act in the US). My synopsis of their findings after the jump.

Continue reading "An Empirical Overview of Modern Sovereign Debt Litigation" »

CFPB's Anti-Abuse Authority: A Promising Development in Substantive Consumer Protection

posted by Jean Braucher

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is doing something promising with its anti-abuse authority under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010.  It is going after credit industry exploitation of consumers, particularly when business models involve using confusing terms that disclosure cannot adequately address.  See my paper on this topic. So I was not surprised to see George Will attacking this development.   We can't have smart, effective consumer protection, no matter how popular it might be.

In a column published in many newspapers this week,Will wrote: “The CFPB's mission is to prevent practices it is empowered to ‘declare’ are ‘unfair, deceptive, or abusive.’ Law is supposed to give people due notice of what is proscribed or prescribed, and developed law does so concerning ‘unfair’ and ‘deceptive’ practices. Not so, ‘abusive.’”

The flaws in Will's critique are legion. First, the CFPB has given lots of notice of what it is doing, in a detailed examination handbook.

Continue reading "CFPB's Anti-Abuse Authority: A Promising Development in Substantive Consumer Protection" »

Allied Bank revisited?

posted by Mark Weidemaier

Last Friday was the filing deadline set by (a rather irked) Judge Griesa for Argentina and interested third parties in that country's long-running battle with NML and other restructuring holdouts. NML's reply brief is due today, but it has already made clear that it wants to be paid in full (roughly $1.4 billion) and that it expects the district court's injunction to bind a lot of third parties, including the trustee for the exchange bondholders. The genius of NML's strategy is that it has found a way to enforce its claims without having to find and seize Argentine assets. (Not that it's afraid to seize an asset or two.) If the strategy works and can be used in other cases, it will have major policy implications.

Readers familiar with the sovereign debt markets may remember the Allied Bank litigation - a trilogy of opinions that launched the modern era of holdout litigation. The parallels between the Allied Bank case and this one are striking, right down to the identity of the district judge.

Continue reading "Allied Bank revisited? " »

Contributors

Current Guests

Follow Us On Twitter

Like Us on Facebook

  • Like Us on Facebook

    By "Liking" us on Facebook, you will receive excerpts of our posts in your Facebook news feed. (If you change your mind, you can undo it later.) Note that this is different than "Liking" our Facebook page, although a "Like" in either place will get you Credit Slips post on your Facebook news feed.

News Feed

Categories

Bankr-L

  • As a public service, the University of Illinois College of Law operates Bankr-L, an e-mail list on which bankruptcy professionals can exchange information. Bankr-L is administered by one of the Credit Slips bloggers, Professor Robert M. Lawless of the University of Illinois. Although Bankr-L is a free service, membership is limited only to persons with a professional connection to the bankruptcy field (e.g., lawyer, accountant, academic, judge). To request a subscription on Bankr-L, click here to visit the page for the list and then click on the link for "Subscribe." After completing the information there, please also send an e-mail to Professor Lawless (rlawless@illinois.edu) with a short description of your professional connection to bankruptcy. A link to a URL with a professional bio or other identifying information would be great.

OTHER STUFF

Powered by TypePad