The Anatomy of a Subprime Mortgage Crisis

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 17th, 2010

Old Time Politics – Buying Votes

There’s a lot of lying going on about the subprime mortgage crisis.  How it happened.  Who was responsible for it.  Was it the banks and their predatory lending?  That’s who Barney Frank blames.  Well, them and Republicans.  Or was it some more of that irrational exuberance that led to a real estate bubble?  It created a dot-com bubble in the 1990s.  Which in turn caused a recession.  Was it just a little history repeating itself?  Perhaps they both played a part.  But if they did, they were minor supporting roles.  They weren’t the star of the crisis.  For neither could have done anything had it not been for their enabler.

The Boston Globe’s Donovan Slack writes about one of the enablers backpedaling on his previous rosy statements about the two companies at ground zero of the crisis (see Stance on Fannie and Freddie dogs Frank on  Fannie Mae.  And Freddie Mac.  Frank is running for reelection.  And his words are coming back to haunt him.

America is a center-right nation.  To counter that, the Left courts a coalition of special interests and single-issue voters.  Federal workers, teachers, unions, gays & lesbians, pro-choice feminists, environmentalists, socialists, minorities, etc.  Each taken by themselves is a very small percentage of the voting population.  But taken together it’s a sizeable percentage.  Then add in one more very important Democrat constituency.  The poor.  Now with all of these firmly in the Democrat’s camp, it’s just a matter of getting enough of the moderate and independent vote to win an election.  Of course, this is a moot point if they DON’T lock in the Democrat base.  And they do this by giving away as much free stuff and favorable legislation as possible. 

Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Huddled Masses Yearning for a House They Can’t Afford

The key to locking in the base is, of course, the poor.  There are a lot of them.  So the Left courts them.  Engages in class warfare.  They paint the Republicans as rich fat-cats who want to take their welfare, social security, food stamps, etc., away from them.  That they want to keep them in slums or throw them onto the street.  In contrast, they, the Democrats, want to provide for them.  To help them.  And they give them a lot of things.  To earn their gratitude.  And their votes at the election booth.  And the grandest of all the things given to them?  Affordable housing.

Poor people don’t have a lot of money.  That’s pretty straight forward but it needs to be said.  Because people who don’t have a lot of money can’t afford to buy a house.  Again, that’s pretty straight forward.  But it needs to be said.  Now, when these people apply for a mortgage and get denied, why do you think they got denied?  Here’s a hint.  Re-read this paragraph.  They get denied because they don’t have a lot of money.  You see, if you don’t have a lot of money, you can’t buy expensive things.  Again, straight forward.  But it needs to be said.  Again.  And often.

Now, what do you think a politician thinks the reason was for these poor people getting their mortgage applications denied?  Red-lining.  Racism.  Classism.  Unfairism.  (Yeah, that isn’t a word.  But it works.)  A large percentage of those denied mortgages are from the inner city poor.  And because of previous white-flight, that inner-city poor also happens to be primarily minority.  Hence the charges of racism.  And that’s just gold to a political party who needs poor minorities to vote for them.

The Siren Song of Affordable Housing

Now Barney Frank is running for reelection.  His Republican challenger is using Frank’s own words in his campaign.   And they’re causing some damage.  For Frank sat on the House’s Financial Services Committee (the oversight committee for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac) throughout the time the crisis built.  And now he’s answering some very uncomfortable questions (this and all quotes are from Stance on Fannie and Freddie dogs Frank).

Frank, in his most detailed explanation to date about his actions, said in an interview he missed the warning signs because he was wearing ideological blinders. He said he had worried that Republican lawmakers and the Bush administration were going after Fannie and Freddie for their own ideological reasons and would curtail the lenders’ mission of providing affordable housing.

Ideology trumped responsibility.  The Left cries foul when the Right doesn’t reach across the aisle, but the Left never reaches out when they have power.  It’s us against them.  Pure partisanship.  Even when there’s great danger brewing.  It’s their interests first.  Then the country’s.  So he protected Freddie and Fannie.  And enabled them to cause greater harm.

Freddie and Fannie are in the secondary mortgage market.  They don’t write mortgages.  They guarantee them (so banks are more willing to take risks with less credit-worthy people).  And they buy these risky mortgages from the banks.  This further reduces a bank’s risk in approving very risky loans to people who are not credit-worthy.  Which is what the Democrats want.  More affordable housing for people who can’t afford to buy houses.  Frank’s committee sets the rules Freddie and Fannie must follow to keep them from approving mortgages that are crazy-stupid.  But that’s exactly what they encouraged.  Subprime loans.  Adjustable Rate Mortgages (ARMs).  Interest only mortgages.  No documentation approvals.  Any bank that didn’t have enough of these mortgages on their books (i.e., risky loans to poor people who couldn’t afford to buy houses) was in trouble.  The federal government would investigate them for red-lining, racism, classism, etc.

The more mortgages Freddie and Fannie bought, the more cash banks had to make more risky loans.  They then dumped these risky loans onto Wall Street.  You see, before the day of subprime loans, ARMs, interest only mortgages and no documentation approvals, mortgages were very safe loans.  But these subprime loans weren’t.  But they looked safe when Wall Street sold them.  I mean, buyers didn’t see the mortgage applications.  They had no idea what a credit risk these people were.  They just knew mortgages were traditionally safe investments.  So they just bought them.  And Freddie and Fannie made it all possible.

Known as government-sponsored enterprises, they didn’t provide mortgages themselves, but rather bought loans from banks and mortgage brokers, freeing up cash so the lenders could make more loans. Fannie and Freddie held or bundled the loans and sold them to investors as mortgage-backed securities.

Investors bought these very ‘profitable’ securities.  This demand just fueled the crisis in waiting.  Because Freddie and Fannie could dump these on Wall Street, they wrote more and more risky loans.  This made everyone happy.  Everyone was making money.  And more people who couldn’t afford to buy houses were buying houses.  And this was, after all, Freddie and Fannie’s mission.  Affordable housing.

In an effort to increase homeownership, the Clinton administration in the late 1990s and the Bush administration in the 2000s pushed Fannie and Freddie to meet growing quotas for buying affordable home loans. Those pushes, combined with a drive for more profits at the enterprises, drove Fannie and Freddie to take on more risk and more debt. They backed subprime and other risky loans, including mortgages for borrowers without proof of steady income.

Even the Republicans got on the band wagon.  New homes sales drive the economy (because of the stuff people have to buy to put into those houses that they can’t afford).  And you make points with the poor and the minorities.  There was just no down side in affordable housing.  Or was there?

But the director of the federal office responsible for overseeing Fannie and Freddie, Armando Falcon, began noticing their expanding portfolios and increasing reliance on risky investments. In early 2003, Falcon warned Congress in a 118-page report of the companies’ potential for a catastrophic failure that could jeopardize the economy.

Okay.  Five years before the crash someone was taking notice.  And he warned Congress.  Thank god someone was looking out for America’s best interests.

But Frank and other Democrats still opposed tighter regulation, Frank most notably in his public statements saying there was nothing wrong with Fannie and Freddie. He and other House Democrats also sent a letter to President George W. Bush in June 2004, saying the proposed crackdown could “weaken affordable housing performance . . . by emphasizing only safety and soundness.’’

Frank and the Democrats were saying that it was more important to put people who couldn’t afford houses into houses than it was to provide oversight.

So he initially supported a Republican measure in 2005 that would have imposed stricter standards on the lenders. But he voted against it in the full chamber because it did not include funding for affordable housing, he said. The bill passed the House.

Frank came around.  He supported a Republican measure to provide stricter oversight.  But he changed his mind.  Once again, affordable housing was more important than the oversight he was supposed to provide.  Then, in the summer of 2008, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson warned Frank again.  Now Frank chaired the House’s Financial Services Committee.  Now, more than ever, it was his responsibility to reign in Freddie and Fannie.  To provide the oversight that was his committee’s responsibility.  But he still didn’t.  Like Nero, he fiddled as the crisis burned out of control.

In July 2008, then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson called Frank and told him the government would need to spend “billions of taxpayer dollars to backstop the institutions from catastrophic failure,’’ according to Paulson’s recent book. Frank, despite that conversation, appeared on national television two days later and said the companies were “fundamentally sound, not in danger of going under.’’

A few months later, Freddie and Fannie would cause the worst recession since the Great Depression.  On Frank’s watch.  And he kept denying that there was any problem until the very end.

Lots of Blame to Go Around – On the Left Side of the Aisle

Barney Frank is not the sole cause of the subprime mortgage crisis.  He was just one of the leading players.  Ultimately, it was an ideology.  Affordable housing.  Putting people into houses who couldn’t afford to buy houses.  This is what caused the worst recession since the Great Depression.  And, yes, the Bush administration did partake in the affordable housing mania.  But if you want to assign real responsibility, ask yourself this question.  Which party do you think of when it comes to affordable housing for the poor and minorities?


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LESSONS LEARNED #19: “Philosophical debates can be effective but character assassination is more expedient, especially when no one agrees with your philosophy.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 24th, 2010

THOMAS JEFFERSON HATED Alexander Hamilton.  So much so he hired Philip Freneau as a translator in his State Department in George Washington’s administration.  You see, Jefferson did not like confrontation.  So he needed a way to slander Hamilton, his policies and the Washington administration without getting his own hands dirty.  And that was what Freneau was supposed to do with the money he earned while working in the State Department.  Publish a newspaper (National Gazette) and attack Hamilton, his policies and the Washington administration.  Papers then were partisan.  More so than today.  Then, lies and libel were tools of the trade.  And they knew how to dig up the dirt.  Or make it up. 

Another scandalmonger, James Callender, was slinging dirt for Jefferson.  And he hit pay dirt.  Mr. and Mrs. Reynolds of Philadelphia had a lucrative business.  They were blackmailing Alexander Hamilton.  Mr. Reynolds had his wife seduce Hamilton.  Which she did.  And did well.  They had an affair.  And Mr. Reynolds then blackmailed him.  Jefferson pounced.  Or, rather, Callender did.  To keep Jefferson’s hands clean.  Hamilton, Callender said, was using his position at the Treasury Department for personal gain.  He was using public funds to pay the blackmailer.  They found no proof of this.  And they did look for it.  Hard.  But when they came up empty, Jefferson said that it just proved what a good thief Hamilton was.  He was so good that he didn’t leave any traces of his treachery behind.

Of course, when you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas.  And Jefferson’s association with Callender would come back and bite him in the ass.  In a big way.  Upset because Jefferson didn’t appropriately compensate him for all his loyal dirt slinging (he wanted the postmaster’s job in Richmond), he publicized the Sally Hemings rumors.  And after breaking the true story of the Hamilton affair, many would believe this scoop.  That Jefferson was having an affair with one of his slaves.  It was a dark cloud that would forever hang over Jefferson.  And his legacy.

Hamilton admitted to his affair.  Jefferson admitted to no affair.  Hamilton would never hold public office again and would later die in a duel with Jefferson’s one-time toady, Aaron Burr.  This duel resulted because Hamilton was doing whatever he could to keep the amoral and unscrupulous Burr from public office (in this case, it was the governorship of New York).  When the election of 1800 resulted in a tie between Jefferson and Burr, Hamilton urged the House to vote for Jefferson, his archenemy.   Despite what had appeared in the press, Hamilton did have morals and scruples.  Unlike some.  Speaking of which, Jefferson would go on to serve 2 terms as president.  And all of that angst about Hamiltonian policies?  They all went out the window with the Louisiana Purchase (which was unconstitutional, Big Government and Big Finance).

RONALD REAGAN WAS routinely called old, senile and out of touch by the entertainment community, the media and his political foes.  But he bested Mikhail Gorbachev and the Soviet Union, something Jimmy Carter never did.  He said ‘no’ at Reykjavik because he told the American people that he wouldn’t give up the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI).  He knew the Soviet Union was bleeding.  Communism was a farce.  It inhibited human capital.  And impoverished her people.  SDI may have been science fiction in the 1980s, but capitalism wasn’t.  It could do it all.  Including SDI.  The Soviet Union was on the ropes and Reagan would give no quarter.  The days of living in fear of the mushroom cloud were over.  And capitalism would deliver the knockout punch.

Reaganomics, of course, made this all possible.  Supply-side economics.  Which follows the Austrian school.  Say’s Law.  ‘Supply creates demand’.  You don’t stimulate the economy by taxing one group of people so another group can spend.  You stimulate it by creating incentives for risk takers to take risks.  And when they do, they create jobs.  And wealth.

Tax and spend is a failed Keynesian, zero-sum economic policy.  When you take from the earners and give to the non-earners, we just transfer purchasing power.  We don’t create it.  For some to spend more, others must spend less.  Hence, zero-sum.  The net some of goods and services people are purchasing remains the same.  Different people are just doing the purchasing.

When Apple invented the Macintosh personal computer (PC), few were demanding a PC with a graphical user interface (GUI).  But Apple was innovative.  They created something they thought the people would want.  And they did.  They took a risk.  And the Macintosh with its mouse and GUI took off.  Apple manufacturing increased and added jobs.  Retail outlets for the Macintosh expanded and created jobs.  Software firms hired more engineers to write code.  And other firms hired more people to engineer and manufacture PC accessories.  There was a net increase in jobs and wealth.  Just as Say’s Law predicts.  Supply-side economics works.

Of course, the Left hates Reagan and attacked Reaganomics with a vengeance.  They attacked Reagan for being pro-rich.  For not caring about the poor.  And they revised history.  They say the only thing the Reagan tax cuts gave us were record deficits.  Of course, what those tax cuts gave us were record tax receipts.  The government never collected more money.  The House of Representatives (who spends the money), awash in cash, just spent that money faster than the treasury collected it.  The record shows Reaganomics worked.  Lower tax rates spurred economic activity.  More activity generated more jobs and more personal wealth.  Which resulted in more people paying more taxes.  More people paying taxes at a lower rate equaled more tax revenue in the aggregate.  It works.  And it works every time people try it. 

Because Reaganomics worked and showed the Left’s policies were failures, they had to attack Reagan.  To discredit him.  They had to destroy the man.  Except when they’re running for elected office.  Then they strive to show how much more Reagan-like they are than their conservative opponents.  Because they know Reaganomics worked.  And they know that we know Reaganomics worked.

GEORGE W. BUSH was routinely called an ‘idiot’ by the entertainment community, the media and his political foes.  Yet this ‘idiot’ seems to have outwitted the elite of the liberal Left time and time again.  I mean, if their policies were winning, they would be no reason to have attacked Bush in the first place.  The Left hated him with such vitriol that they said he blew up the Twin Towers on 9/11 as a justification for invading Iraq for her oil.  It was Big Oil’s lust for profit, after all, that was driving this Texan’s Big Oil policies.  And taking Iraq’s oil would increase Big Oil’s sales and give her even more obscene profits.

If Bush was an idiot, he must have been an idiot genius to come up with a plan like that.  Then again, gasoline prices crept to $4/gallon following the Iraq War.  Had all that oil gone on the market according to plan, that wouldn’t have happened.  Unless the plan was to keep that oil OFF of the market, thus, by rules of supply and demand, the price of oil (and the gasoline we make from it) would go up thus enriching Big Oil through higher prices resulting from a lower sales volume.  My god, what evil genius.  For an idiot.  Of course, gas taxes, numerous summer gas blends (required by the government’s environmental policies), an aging and over-taxed pipeline infrastructure and insufficient refinery capacity (the government’s environmental policies make it too punishing even to consider building a new refinery) to meet increasing demand (soaring in India and China) had nothing to do with the rise in gas prices.

IS THE POLITICAL Left evil?  Probably not.  Just amoral.  They have an agenda.  They survive on political spoils and patronage.  Old time politics.  Enrich themselves through cronyism.  If tribute is paid they’ll extend favorable treatment.  If tribute is not paid, they will release their wrath via hostile regulation, litigation, Congressional investigation and punitive taxation.  Just like they did to Big Tobacco (and, no, it wasn’t about our health.  They could have just made tobacco illegal.  But they didn’t.  Why?  It just brings in way too much money to the government.  Via sin taxes.  And federal lawsuits.  And with it being addictive, it’s a frickin cash piñata for them.)

They know few agree with their philosophy.  But they don’t care.  It’s not about national prosperity.  It’s about power.  And they want it.  That’s why they can’t debate the issues.  They know they can’t win.  So they attack the messenger.  Not the message.  If you don’t believe that, you can ask Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, Sarah Palin and just about any other Republican.  Well, you can’t ask Lincoln or Reagan.  But you can guess what they would say.


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