- Moral hazard misconception by Ricardo Caballero, and
- There is never a right time to tackle moral hazard ... by Willem Buiter
A related article is Financial crisis resolution: It’s all about burden-sharing by Charles Wyplosz. Wyplosz asks
Should taxpayers bail out the banking system?He contrasts the
... Larry Summers “don’t-scare-off-the-investors” pro-bailout view with the Willem Buiter “they-ran-into-a wall-with-eyes-wide-open” anti-bailout view. He concludes that either way, taxpayers are always the losers. The best policy makers can do is to be merciless with shareholders and gentle with bank customers.Thomas Sowell's view is that
It was government intervention in the financial markets, which is now supposed to save the situation, that created the problem in the first place.Update: More from Tom Sowell
Laws and regulations pressured lending institutions to lend to people that they were not lending to, given the economic realities. The Community Reinvestment Act forced them to lend in places where they did not want to send their money, and where neither they nor the politicians wanted to walk.
Now that this whole situation has blown up in everybody's face, the government intervention that brought on this disaster in is supposed to save the day.
Politics is largely the process of taking credit and putting the blame on others— regardless of what the facts may be. Politicians get away with this to the extent that we gullibly accept their words and look to them as political messiahs.
How did the government help create the current financial mess? Let me count the ways.(HT: Carpe Diem)
In addition to federal laws that pressure lenders to lend to people they would not otherwise lend to, and in places where they would otherwise not invest, state and local governments have in various parts of the country so severely restricted building as to lead to skyrocketing housing prices, which in turn have led many people to resort to "creative financing" in order to buy these artificially more expensive homes.
Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve System brought interest rates down to such low levels that "creative financing" with interest-only mortgage loans enabled people to buy houses that they could not otherwise afford.
But there is no free lunch. Interest-only loans do not continue indefinitely. After a few years, such mortgage loans typically require the borrower to begin paying back some of the principal, which means that the monthly mortgage payments will begin to rise.
Since everyone knew that the Federal Reserve System's extremely low interest rates were not going to last forever, much "creative financing" also involved adjustable-rate mortgages, where the interest charged by the lender would rise when interest rates in the economy as a whole rose.
In the housing market, a difference of a couple of percentage points in the interest rate can make a big difference in the monthly mortgage payment. For someone who buys a house costing half a million dollars— which can be a very small house in many parts of coastal California— the difference between paying 4 percent and 6 percent interest would amount to more than $7,000 a year. For people who have had to stretch to the limit to buy a house, an increase of $7,000 a year in their mortgage payments can be enough to push them over the edge financially.
In other words, government laws and policies at federal, state and local levels have had the net effect of putting both borrowers and lenders way out on a limb.
And this from James Surowiecki at The New Yorker
When do the words “not guaranteed” actually mean “guaranteed”? Whenever the mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are involved. The two companies have long been required to tell investors that their securities are not guaranteed by the federal government. But in the financial markets everyone has always assumed that this demurral was just window-dressing, and everyone, it turns out, was right. Last week, when fears of a possible collapse of the two companies threatened to spark a major financial crisis, the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve quickly came up with a rescue package. What had been an implicit guarantee became an explicit one.And this
It wasn’t until 1968 that Fannie was privatized. (Freddie Mac was created two years later, and was private from the start.) The main reason for the change was surprisingly mundane: accounting. At the time, Lyndon Johnson was concerned about the effect of the Vietnam War on the federal budget. Making Fannie Mae private moved its liabilities off the government’s books, even if, as the recent crisis made clear, the U.S. was still responsible for those debts. It was a bit like what Enron did thirty years later, when it used “special-purpose entities” to move liabilities off its balance sheet.Followed by
The result of all this was that the companies reaped the rewards of the private sector while enjoying the security of the public sector. Seemingly insulated from all harm, they became reckless. They constructed a giant pyramid of debt on a very small base of capital (eighty-one billion dollars, by the most recent publicly available figures), and by May, 2008, either owned or guaranteed more than five trillion dollars in mortgages. As a result, even though just a small percentage of Fannie’s and Freddie’s mortgages are delinquent, the potential losses are huge.And thus the reason for the recent actions by the Fed and the Treasury.
(HT: Greg Mankiw)