The actual negative impact of the farm stripdown legislation was minor. Although the legislation created a special chapter in the Bankruptcy Code for farmers and allowed stripdowns on primary residences, it did not change the cost and availability of farm credit dramatically. In fact, a United States General Accounting Office (1989) survey of a small group of bankers found that none of them raised interest rates to farmers more than 50 basis points. While this rate change may have been a response to the Chapter 12, it is also consistent with increasing premiums due to the economic environment. This suggests that the changes in the cost and availability of farm credit after the bankruptcy reform differed little from what would be expected in that economic environment, absent reform.

What was most interesting about Chapter 12 is that it worked without working. According to studies by Robert Collender (1993) and Jerome Stam and Bruce Dixon (2004), instead of flooding bankruptcy courts, Chapter 12 drove the parties to make private loan modifications.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at rc2538@columbia.edu. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.