Government-Caused Disaster

The Obama administration calls terrorism a “man-caused disaster,” but the biggest disasters are government-caused. Only government has the ability to set us back a trillion dollars.
In today’s Wall Street Journal, Peter Wallison has explosive, and as far as I know new, disclosures about the role played by Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac in last year’s financial crisis:

On Christmas Eve, when most Americans’ minds were on other things, the Treasury Department announced that it was removing the $400 billion cap from what the administration believes will be necessary to keep Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac solvent. This action confirms that the decade-long congressional failure to more closely regulate these two government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) will rank for U.S. taxpayers as one of the worst policy disasters in our history. …
The GSEs had begun buying risky loans in 1993 to meet the “affordable housing” requirements established under congressional direction by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
Most of the damage was done from 2005 through 2007, when Fannie and Freddie were binging on risky mortgages. Back then, [Congressman Barney] Frank was the bartender, denying that there was any cause for concern, and claiming that he wanted to “roll the dice” on subsidized housing support. …
By the end of 2008, Fannie and Freddie held or guaranteed approximately 10 million subprime and Alt-A mortgages and mortgage-backed securities (MBS)–risky loans with a total principal balance of $1.6 trillion. These are now defaulting at unprecedented rates, accounting for both their 2008 insolvency and their growing losses today. Since 2008, under government control, the two agencies have continued to buy dicey mortgages in order to stabilize housing prices.
There is more to this ugly situation. New research by Edward Pinto, a former chief credit officer for Fannie Mae and a housing expert, has found that from the time Fannie and Freddie began buying risky loans as early as 1993, they routinely misrepresented the mortgages they were acquiring, reporting them as prime when they had characteristics that made them clearly subprime or Alt-A. …
It is easy to see how this misrepresentation was a principal cause of the financial crisis.
Market observers, rating agencies and investors were unaware of the number of subprime and Alt-A mortgages infecting the financial system in late 2006 and early 2007. Of the 26 million subprime and Alt-A loans outstanding in 2008, 10 million were held or guaranteed by Fannie and Freddie, 5.2 million by other government agencies, and 1.4 million were on the books of the four largest U.S. banks.
In addition, about 7.7 million subprime and Alt-A housing loans were in mortgage pools supporting MBS issued by Wall Street banks–which had long before been driven out of the prime market by Fannie and Freddie’s government-backed, low-cost funding. The vast majority of these MBS were rated AAA, because the rating agencies’ models assumed that the losses that are incurred by subprime and Alt-A loans would be within the historical range for the number of high-risk loans known to be outstanding.
But because of Fannie and Freddie’s mislabeling, there were millions more high-risk loans outstanding. That meant default rates as well as the actual losses after foreclosure were going to be outside all prior experience. …
[The roots of the financial crisis] go back to 1993, when Fannie and Freddie began stocking up on subprime and other risky loans while reporting them as prime.
Why Fannie and Freddie did this is still to be determined. But the leading candidate is certainly HUD’s affordable housing regulations, which by 2007 required that 55% of all the loans the agencies acquired had to be made to borrowers at or below the median income, with almost half of these required to be low-income borrowers.

When a private citizen like Bernie Madoff commits fraud, he gets a long jail sentence. But when Barney Frank, Nancy Pelosi, and the well-connected (and now rich) Democrats who headed Freddy Mac and Fannie Mae commit fraud–on a far larger scale–they simply send the bill to the taxpayers. Or, rather, the taxpayers’ children.

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