Banks, Keynes, Subprime Mortgage Crisis and Great Recession

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 17th, 2013

History 101

(Originally published June 11th, 2013)

Bringing Borrowers and Lenders Together is a very Important Function of our Banks

Borrowers like low interest rates.  Savers (i.e., lenders) like high interest rates.  People who put money into the bank want to earn a high interest rate.  People who want to buy a house want a low interest rate.  As the interest rate will determine the price of the house they can buy.  Borrowers and lenders meet at banks.  Bankers offer a high enough interest rate to attract lenders (i.e., depositors).  But not too high to discourage borrowers.

This is the essence of the banking system.  And capital formation.  Alexander Hamilton said that money in people’s pockets was just money.  But when the people came together and deposited their money into a bank that money became capital.  Large sums of money a business could borrow to build a factory.  Which creates economic activity.  And jobs.  The United States became the world’s number one economic power with the capital formation of its banking system.  For a sound banking system is required for any advanced economy.  As it allows the rise of a middle class.  By providing investment capital for entrepreneurs.  And middle class jobs in the businesses they build.

So bringing borrowers and lenders together is a very important function of our banks.  And bankers have the heavy burden of determining saving rates.  And lending rates.  As well as determining the credit risk of potential borrowers.  Savers deposit their money to earn one rate.  So the bank can loan it out at another rate.  A rate that will pay depositors interest.  As well as cover the few loans that borrowers can’t pay back.  Which is why bankers have to be very careful to who they loan money to.

Keynesians make Recessions worse by Keeping Interest Rates low, Preventing a Correction from Happening

John Maynard Keynes changed this system of banking that made the United States the world’s number one economic power.  We call his economic theories Keynesian economics.  One of the changes from the classical school of economics we used to make the United States the world’s number one economic power was the manipulation of interest rates.  Instead of leaving this to free market forces in the banking system Keynesians said government should have that power.  And they took it.  Printing money to make more available to lend.  Thus bringing down interest rates.

And why did they want to bring down interest rates?  To stimulate economic activity.  At least, that was their goal.  To stimulate economic activity to pull us out of a recession.  To even eliminate recessions all together.  To eliminate the normal expansion and contraction of the economy.  By manipulating interest rates to continually expand the economy.  To accept a small amount of permanent inflation.  In exchange for a constantly expanding economy.  And permanent job creation.  That was the Keynesian intention.  But did it work?

No.  Since the Keynesians took over the economy we’ve had the Great Depression, the stagflation and misery of the Seventies, the savings and loans crisis of the Eighties, the irrational exuberance and the dot-com bubble crash of the Nineties, the subprime mortgage crisis and the Great Recession.  All of these were caused by the Keynesian manipulation of interest rates.  And the resulting recessions were made worse by trying to keep interest rates low to pull the economy out of recession.  Preventing the correction from happening.  Allowing these artificially low interest rates to cause even more damage.

The Government’s manipulation of Interest Rates gave us the Subprime Mortgage Crisis and the Great Recession

My friend’s father complained about the low interest rates during the Clinton administration.  For the savings rate offered by banks was next to nothing.  With the Federal Reserve printing so much money the banks didn’t need to attract depositors with high savings rates.  Worse for these savers was the inflation caused by printing all of this money eroded the purchasing power of their savings.  So they couldn’t earn anything on their savings.  And what savings they had bought less and less over time.  But mortgages were cheap.  And people were rushing to the banks to get a mortgage before those rates started rising again.

This was an interruption of normal market forces.  It changed people’s behavior.  People who were not even planning to buy a house were moved by those low interest rates to enter the housing market.  Then President Clinton pushed other people into the housing market with his Policy Statement on Discrimination in Lending.  Getting people who were not even planning to buy a house AND who could not even afford to buy a house to enter the housing market.  Those artificially low interest rates pulled so many people into the housing market that this increased demand for houses started raising house prices.  A lot.  But it didn’t matter.  Not with those low interest rates.  Subprime lending.  Pressure by the Clinton administration to qualify the unqualified for mortgages.  And Fannie May and Freddie Mac buying those risky subprime mortgages from the banks, freeing them up to make more risky mortgages.  This scorching demand pushed housing prices into the stratosphere.

A correction was long overdue.  But the Federal Reserve kept pushing that correction off by keeping interest rates artificially low.  But eventually inflation started to appear from all that money creation.  And the Federal Reserve had no choice but to raise interest rates to tamp out that inflation.  But when they did it caused a big problem for those with subprime mortgages.  Those who had adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs).  For when interest rates went up so did their mortgage payments.  Beyond their ability to pay them.  So they defaulted on their mortgages.  A lot of them.  Which caused an even bigger problem.  All those mortgages Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac bought?  They sold them to Wall Street.  Who chopped them up into collateralized debt obligations.  Financial instruments backed by historically the safest of all investments.  The home mortgage.  Only these weren’t your father’s mortgage.  These were risky subprime mortgages.  But they sold them to unsuspecting investors as high yield and low-risk investments.  And when people started defaulting on their mortgages these investments became worthless.  Which spread the financial crisis around the world.  On top of all of this the housing bubble burst.  And those house prices fell back down from the stratosphere.  Leaving many homeowners with mortgages greater than the corrected value of their house.

It was the government’s manipulation of interest rates that gave us the subprime mortgage crisis.  The Great Recession.  And the worst recovery since that following the Great Depression.  All the result of Keynesian economics.  And the foolhardy belief that you can make recessions a thing of the past.

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