The Bad Gone Blog received a very lengthy comment from one of our readers suggesting that laissez faire capitalism was the main cause of our recent economic downturn.
Even though we at BGB vehemently disagree with the reader’s comments, we do appreciate the feedback and dialogue. We encourage everyone to give us feedback, both positive and negative.
In the end, this is how everyone becomes educated and some people will even “see the err in beliefs” and occasionally change their mind.
Feel free to read the comment section of the post by clicking, Truth Behind Clinton’s Surplus and Bush/Obama deficits.
You can read the first article in this series by clicking, The Myth that Laissez Faire Capitalism is Responsible for our Current Crisis Part 1 and the second article by clicking The Myth that Laissez Faire Capitalism is Responsible for our Current Crisis Part 2.
Any discussion of the housing debacle would be incomplete if it did not include mention of the systematic consumption of home equity encouraged for several years by the media and an ignorant economics profession. Consistent with the teachings of Keynesianism that consumer spending is the foundation of prosperity, they regarded the rise in home prices as a powerful means for stimulating such spending. In increasing homeowners’ equity, they held, it enabled homeowners to borrow money to finance additional consumption and thus keep the economy operating at a high level. As matters have turned out, such consumption has served to saddle many homeowners with mortgages that are now greater than the value of their homes, which would not have been the case had those mortgages not been enlarged to finance additional consumption. This consumption is the cause of a further loss of capital over and above the capital lost in malinvestment.
A discussion of the housing debacle would also not be complete if it did not mention the role of government guarantees of many mortgage loans. If the government guarantees the principal and interest on a loan, there is no reason why a lender should care about the qualifications of a borrower. He will not lose by making the loan, however bad it may turn out to be.
A substantial number of mortgage loans carried such guarantees. For example, a New York Times article describes the Department of Housing and Urban Development as “an agency that greased the mortgage wheel for first-time buyers by insuring billions of dollars in loans.” The article describes how HUD progressively reduced its lending standards: “families no longer had to prove they had five years of stable income; three years sufficed… lenders were allowed to hire their own appraisers rather than rely on a government-selected panel … lenders no longer had to interview most government-insured borrowers face to face or maintain physical branch offices,” because the government’s approval for granting mortgage insurance had become automatic.
The Times’ article goes on to describe how “Lenders,” such as Countrywide Financial, which was among the largest and most prominent, “sprang up to serve those whose poor credit history made them ineligible for lower-interest ‘prime’ loans.” It notes the fact that “Countrywide signed a government pledge to use ‘proactive creative efforts’ to extend homeownership to minorities and low-income Americans.” “Proactive creative efforts” is a good description of what lenders did in offering such bizarre types of mortgages as those requiring the payment of “interest only,” and then allowing the avoidance even of the payment of interest by adding it to the amount of outstanding principal. (Such mortgages suited the needs of homebuyers whose reason for buying was to be able to sell as soon as home prices rose sufficiently further.)
Just as vast numbers of houses were purchased based on an unfounded belief in an endless rise in their prices, so too vast numbers of complex financial derivatives were sold based on an unfounded belief that the Federal Reserve System actually had the power it claimed to have of making depressions impossible — a power which the media and most of the economics profession repeatedly affirmed.
Derivatives have received such a bad press that it is necessary to point out that the insurance policy on a home is a derivative. And many of the derivatives that were sold and which are now creating problems of insolvency and bankruptcy, namely, “credit default swaps (CDSs),” were insurance policies in one form or another. Their flaw was that unlike ordinary homeowners’ insurance, they did not have a sufficient list of exclusions.
Homeowners’ policies make exclusions for such things as damage caused by war and, in many cases, depending on the special risks of the local area, earthquakes and hurricanes. In the same way, the more complex derivatives should have made an exclusion for losses resulting from financial collapse brought on by Federal Reserve–sponsored massive credit expansion. (If it is impossible actually to write such an exclusion, because many of the losses may occur before the nature of the cause becomes evident, then such derivatives should not be written and the market will no longer write them because of the unacceptable risks they entail.) But decades of brainwashing by the government, the media, and the educational system had convinced almost everyone that such collapse was no longer possible.
Belief in the impossibility of depressions played the same role in the creation and sale of “collateralized debt obligations (CDOs).” Here disparate home mortgages were bundled together and securities were issued against them. In many cases, large buyers bundled together collections of such securities and issued further securities against those securities. As more and more homeowners have defaulted on their loans, the result has been that no one is able directly to judge the value of these securities. To do so, it will be necessary to disentangle them down to the level of the underlying individual mortgages. Such tangles of securities could never have been sold in a market not overwhelmed by the propaganda that depressions are impossible under the government’s management of the financial system.
Finally, a discussion of the housing debacle would not be complete if it did not include mention of forms of virtual extortion that served to encourage loans to unworthy borrowers. Thus, the online encyclopedia Wikipedia writes,
The Community Reinvestment Act [CRA] … is a United States federal law designed to encourage commercial banks and savings associations to meet the needs of borrowers in all segments of their communities, including low- and moderate-income neighborhoods … CRA regulations give community groups the right to comment or protest about banks’ non-compliance with CRA. Such comments could help or hinder banks’ planned expansions.
The meaning of these words is that the Community Reinvestment Act gives the power to “community groups,” to determine in an important respect the financial success or failure of a bank. Only if they are satisfied that the bank is making sufficient loans to borrowers to whom it would otherwise choose not to lend, will it be permitted to succeed. The most prominent such community group is ACORN.
Part and parcel of the environment that has made an act such as the CRA possible, is threats of slander against banks for being “racist” if they choose not to make loans to people who are poor credit risks and also happen to belong to this or that minority group. The threats of slander go hand in glove with intimidation from various government agencies that exercise discretionary power over the banks and are in a position to harm them if they do not comply with the agencies’ wishes. The same points apply to mortgage lenders other than banks.
What this extensive analysis of the actual causes of our financial crisis has shown is that it is government intervention, not a free market or laissez-faire capitalism, that is responsible in every essential respect.