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Re: Madness: Bailing Out Greed in Wonderland
From: David Farber <dave () farber net>
Date: Wed, 17 Sep 2008 08:09:55 -0400

Begin forwarded message:

From: Jonathan Smith <jms () cis upenn edu>
Date: September 17, 2008 7:32:56 AM EDT
To: dave () farber net
Subject: Re: [IP] Re:   Madness: Bailing Out Greed in Wonderland

Interesting. My own belief is that the bankers judgement was affected (negatively) by the "OPM" phenomenon
John Gutfreund notes in this insightful Bloomberg piece from February.

On Sep 17, 2008, at 5:26 AM, David Farber wrote:

Begin forwarded message:

From: Declan McCullagh <declan () well com>
Date: September 17, 2008 3:42:21 AM EDT
To: dave () farber net
Cc: Lauren Weinstein <lauren () vortex com>
Subject: Re: [IP] Madness: Bailing Out Greed in Wonderland

David Farber wrote:
This is the same government that not so long ago made it much more
difficult for individuals to file for personal bankruptcy, in line
with the GOPs' call for "individual responsibility" in such
matters.  In other words, if you're a (formerly) filthy rich
financial services corporation that screws up -- after getting your
claws so deeply into the economy that any attempt at removal will
clause a death by millions of cuts -- the taxpayers will be called
upon to bail you out.

Yup, that's about right. There's plenty of hypocrisy to go around.

Let's take the case of the Fannie and Freddie bailout. Unfortunately for your thesis, it was Barney Frank, a Democrat and committee chairman, who was Fannie and Freddie's most ardent defender on Capitol Hill and who resisted reform the most. See:

"Mr. Frank and other friends of Fan and Fred opposed not only bills written to limit the size of their portfolios, but any bill that in their view gave an independent regulator too much discretion to order a reduction."

And see how Fannie and Freddie's allies lased out at pesky journalists who were asking too many questions:

When Enron failed, there was no end of fuss and investigations and prosecutions, even though I don't recall taxpayers being left on the hook for billions. Now that Fannie and Freddie have failed, with a former Clinton budget director at their helm during much of their apparent mismanagement, have the once-vigilant Feds brought any lawsuits against their executives? Even ones who got preferential wink-wink-nudge-nudge mortgages from Countrywide's CEO?

It's completely clear how we got into this position.
Greed -- lack of appropriate regulation -- the GOP's never-ending
belief in "trickle-down" economics and their genuine disdain for the
average working man, all wrapped up in the flag and disingenuous
talking points of course.

It's true that the Republicans have wrapped themselves, shamefully, in the flag when promoting the Iraq war (perhaps soon to be the Iran war too). But it's not true that "lack of appropriate regulation" is to blame.

There are two major factors that come to mind: The until-recently quasi-official status of F&F, and the boom and bust cycle created by the Federal Reserve's unreasonable expansion of the money supply over the last decade. Both are caused not by a lack of government interference, but _too much_ of it.

One Republican politician was saying just this. Here's an excerpt from Ron Paul's suggestion in 2003, which, unfortunately, was ignored:

"Ironically, by transferring the risk of a widespread mortgage default,
the government increases the likelihood of a painful crash in the
housing market... Congress should act to remove taxpayer support from the housing GSEs before the bubble bursts and taxpayers are once again forced to bail out investors who were misled by foolish government interference in the market..."

Now, of course, Paul was proven right. And we have the bizarre spectacle of politicians who claim to be for "affordable housing" trying to prop up Fannie and Freddie. If F&F didn't exist (or existed in a substantially different, privatized form), the housing bubble would end more quickly, economic dislocations would be worked through more quickly, housing prices would normalize sooner, and homes would actually become more affordable.

As I said, plenty of hypocrisy to go around.


PS: I recognize that there are other bailouts taking place, and you were talking generally. But the F&F bailout is the one I've been thinking most about recently, so forgive me for focusing on it.

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