LESSONS LEARNED #35: “Not only is ignorance bliss, but it’s a godsend to Big Government.” -Old Pithy
If Jefferson Could Talk from the Grave He’d Be Hoarse from Shouting by Now
Politicians. They’re all the same. Well, most of them. They enter politics for one thing. For a career. And what do people want from a career? Great success. Great prestige. Great wealth. Great power. And a little revenge. The pencil-neck, computer-nerd geek takes great pleasure in seeing a jock from his high school days emptying his trash while boarding his private jet. “Those wedgies and swirlies were a bitch but look at us now.” It’s true. The best revenge is living well.
But some people lack any talent or ability. Some of them will never amount to anything. They’ll never know the joy of looking down on people better than them with sweet condescension. So these people go into politics. Where people with no talent or ability can live well. It’s a simple formula. Sell your soul. Whore yourself out. Shake down businesses with taxation and regulation (and get even with all those people who have far more talent and ability than you ever had). Collect tribute. Consolidate power. Hold those you serve in contempt.
Lord Acton wrote in 1887, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” A century earlier, Thomas Jefferson fought tirelessly to prevent great money and federal power from conjoining. The Old World capitals consolidated money and power. And this concentrated the money and power into fewer and fewer hands. Kings ruled by whim. And oppressed their hapless subjects. It’s a story as old as time. And is still true today. To the great chagrin of Jefferson.
Go West, Young Man
The transcontinental railroad was making poor progress during the Civil War. Because it was starved for capital. No one would invest. Few doubted that they could build it. Even if they could, few doubted it would ever make money. The West was mostly raw, unsettled land. There was nothing to transport. Nothing to earn revenue. It was a huge investment with a huge risk. Investors are smart when it comes to money. And they saw the transcontinental railroad as a one-way road that their money would go down and never return. They needed something. Big Government.
When it comes to throwing money away on a losing investment there is but one place to go. Uncle Sam. With the power to tax, the federal government has huge piles of money to play with. So here’s what happened to build that railroad. Union Pacific (UP) created a shell company called Crédit Mobilier (CM) to finance and build the railroad. These companies were one and the same. Without getting too complicated, UP sold their ‘worthless’ stock to CM at par. Now, CM being a finance and construction company, a train never had to run over the road they were building to make a profit. Union Pacific, on the other hand, needed trains running on that new track. They were a transportation company. They earned a profit from transporting goods on their trains. This meant it could take years before UP could even hope to earn a profit on the new transcontinental railroad. CM, on the other hand, could start earning a profit with the first invoice they submitted for construction. And they did.
CM had strong revenues. They submitted grossly inflated construction invoices to UP. UP added a small construction management fee and submitted them to the government. The government paid UP. UP paid CM. With revenues far exceeding their costs, CM made obscene profits. CM stock took off into the stratosphere. Some of which was sold to Congressmen at a deep discount who in turn realized obscene capital gains if they sold their stock. Or collected obscene dividends if they held onto their stock. In return for this sweetheart deal, they approved all cost overruns. Killed any legislation unfavorable to UP/CM. Provided lucrative incentives to build track on the worst ground in the most indirect path (to maximize the railroad’s mineral rights). Provided little to no oversight on the construction of the road (some track was built on ice, with cheap steel and flimsy wooden trestles wherever possible). When east met west the different railroads kept on building, parallel to each other to keep billing Uncle Sam. All paid by the public treasury. By the taxpayer. The little guy. Being raped and pillaged by their own representatives.
Affordable Housing for Those Who Vote Democrat
Politicians buy votes. Pad the federal payroll. Steal from the treasury. Break the law. Violate our trust. You know, politician stuff. Because of the inconvenience of elections, they can’t be too blatant about their rape and pillage. So they do things that are in the best interest of the public. Or so they say. Like affordable housing. You see, the Left buys the votes of the poor and minorities by throwing bones to them. And there are a lot of minorities in the inner cities of the bluest of blue cities. So they threw big bones to them. Houses.
Despite their War on Poverty, the Left just can’t help these people. The truth is, of course, that they don’t want to help them. If they’re poor and dependent on the government, the Left can count on their vote. If they escape poverty and don’t need Big Government to provide for them, these people are of no use to the Left. Ergo, they never escape poverty.
Of course, the problem of remaining in abject poverty is that you can’t qualify for a mortgage. Banks are funny that way. They only loan money to people who can pay them back. So they declined a lot of mortgages to these poor inner city minorities. Well, this was just too good for Big Government to pass up. A large group of minorities (i.e., a large Democrat voting bloc) being denied mortgages? Why, that’s racism. So they drafted a lot of legislation and unleashed their justice department with extreme prejudice. The message? Approve these loans. Or face the consequences (revoking a bank’s charter, a federal lawsuit, a public demonstration headed by Jesse Jackson, Charlie Rangel, et al, etc.). So they found creative ways to approve loans. And they got a little help from Uncle Sam.
The Subprime Mortgage Crisis is a Lot Like the Crédit Mobilier Scandal
By a little I mean a lot. Uncle Sam screwed the mortgage bankers by making them approve extremely risky loans. So, to help the mortgage bankers, Uncle Sam screwed the American people. They guaranteed those highly risky mortgages, thus transferring the risk from them to us, the taxpayer. And to further mitigate the bankers’ risks, they purchased a lot of those highly risky mortgages to remove them from the banks’ balance sheets. It’s called the secondary mortgage market. And the primary players are none other than Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, ground zero of the subprime mortgage crisis.
Once upon a time, a mortgage was one of the safest investments. People saved up to pay a 20% down payment. With their life savings invested, people paid their mortgage payment and they paid them on time. And if you could afford a 20% down payment, mortgage bankers had a lot of confidence that you would be able to service your mortgage. But in the day of 5%, 3% and 0% down, a person doesn’t have a whole lot to lose. This makes the first few years of these mortgages especially risky. The introduction of ‘no documentation’ mortgages meant people could lie about their income (or include overtime earnings). Add to that the Adjustable Rate Mortgage (ARM) and the interest-only mortgage and you just made these especially risky mortgages even more risky. Sure, these will get almost anyone into a home, but they get in by the skin of their teeth. But if they lose their overtime due to a weakened economy, if their interest rate on their ARM resets at a higher rate or a balloon payment is due on their interest-only loan, guess what? That stream of mortgage payments could very well stop.
Now that would be a BIG problem. Because of what Freddie and Fannie did with those mortgages they bought. They sliced them up and built creative investment vehicles. Derivatives. Mortgage backed securities called collateralized debt obligations. Wall Street repackaged all these risky mortgages into highly profitable investments. Everybody bought them. Pension funds. Trust funds. In America. And throughout the world. Big gains with a low risk. Or so it would seem. You see, they never eliminated the risk. They only transferred it to someone else. And once people couldn’t pay their mortgage payments anymore, the house of cards came crashing down. We call it the subprime mortgage crisis of 2008. It caused a worldwide recession. And cost the American taxpayer dearly. Even those not born yet.
Yes We Can…Screw the American Taxpayer
The subprime mortgage crisis of 2008 is a government creation. Their quest of affordable housing to buy votes put more and more people into houses they couldn’t afford. They created legislation akin to extortion of the banking industry. They used the Justice Department to apply the muscle for that extortion. They had their friends in the media and the activists for racial equality to further pressure the banking industry. Their lack of oversight of Fannie and Freddie (thank you Barney Frank and Chris Dodd) let them make extremely risky loans. And their policies of buying extremely risky mortgages ultimately transferred all risk to the taxpayer. Why? Because like all good government scandals, the seekers of favors rewarded our representatives well for their complicity with sweetheart mortgage deals, vacation junkets, fat contributions to their campaign war chests, etc. In other words, politics as usual. But on a grand scale.
Why do they do it? Because they can. They count on you being ignorant of history. And accepting every lie they tell you. Because they hold you in contempt. They look down on you with sweet condescension. These pencil-neck geeks who could never amount to anything on their own merit or ability. But some sold souls later and they have finally gotten even with those who were better than them. And here they are. Still living well. Even during the worst recession since the Great Depression.
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