by Peter Schiff, Schiff Gold:
In a recent article, we explained how central banking wrecks the economy over and over again with its interventionist monetary policy. The Fed tinkers with interest rates and drives boom-bust cycles. But government also has a role to play in this drama. The policies pushed by politicians and bureaucrats help determine where malinvestments will show up in the economy.
The unholy alliance of central bankers, politicians and government functionaries always ends in economic chaos.
In the years leading up to the 2008 crash, the government tried to turn every American into a homeowner. Needless to say – it didn’t end well. This should serve as a warning for the current batch of politicians and bureaucrats. Sadly, it probably won’t.
The following was written by Peter Schmidt. Any views expressed are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Peter Schiff or SchiffGold.
Dr. Benjamin Anderson was one of the most respected economists in the country when economics was a field that demanded respect. (With the rise of modern economics and modern economists like Paul Krugman, Ben Bernanke and all those now at the Fed, those days have long since passed.) Anderson famously described banking as “a regulated but private enterprise, not an instrument for economic, social and political experimentation by government.”(1) Anderson also discussed the consequences of government interference in this regulated but private enterprise when he said, “the substitution of government policy in credit matters for the free exercise of banking judgment is one of the most dangerous things that can come to a country.” (2, emphasis added)
Anderson developed these ideas more than 75-years ago. His conclusion concerning the dangers of government interference in lending were proven both correct and prescient by the housing bubble and financial crisis of 2008.
This conclusion should also serve as a warning for the seemingly innocuous proposal from Bernie Sanders and (the indefatigable) Alexandria Ocasio Cortez to get the government back in banking services via that modicum of efficiency, the post office. To better understand all the risks associated with ‘the substitution of government policy for the free exercise of banking judgment’ a review of the most spectacular manifestation of these risks – the collapse of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac – is the best place to start.
Fannie Mae was a Depression-era construct. Like all crisis interventions into the economy, Fannie Mae far outlasted the crisis which was the rationale behind its creation. The largest part of Fannie Mae was privatized in 1968 and an erstwhile competitor to Fannie, Freddie Mac, was conjured into existence by Congress in 1970. Fannie and Freddie were ‘government-sponsored enterprises’ (GSEs). The government capitalized both companies but the companies were operated as private firms. For discussion purposes here, the business of the GSEs was to issue mortgages.
On May 2, 1995, President Bill Clinton announced his “National Homeownership Strategy.” President Clinton was somehow able to establish a homeownership goal for the United States – and to three significant digits no less – 67.5%. The “heart” of his national homeownership strategy was “…100 proposed actions … These actions are designed to generate up to 8-million new homeowners by the year 2000.”(3) Of course, viewed now, through the smoking rubble of the housing collapse and ensuing crisis, the 100 proposed actions of Bill Clinton’s homeownership strategy now read like step-by-step instructions on how to destroy the United States.
At its core, President Clinton’s homeownership strategy was nothing other than massive government interference in the mortgage market. Lending standards that had been developed over decades were radically overhauled in a few months. Nowhere was this radical overhaul more obvious than in the lending standards of the two GSEs – Fannie and Freddie. As a result of legislation from October 1992, the Orwellian named Federal Housing Enterprises Safety and Soundness Act (4), the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) had the authority to establish how many mortgages the GSEs issued to low and moderate income borrowers, the so-called affordable housing mandate.
In 1993, just before HUD, a government agency, had the authority to direct the GSEs, presumably private companies, to lend to low and moderate income borrowers, 34% of Fannie Mae mortgages went to low and moderate-income borrowers. For Freddie, the percentage was 30%.(5) As a result of the actions of President Clinton’s two HUD secretaries, Henry Cisneros and Andrew Cuomo, these figures would be left in the dust. In December 1995, HUD Secretary Cisneros – who would later serve on the board of mortgage lender Countrywide and become a home developer himself – raised the percentage of GSE loans that had to go to low and moderate-income borrowers to 42%.(6). However, the real damage was to come and it would be delivered by the current governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo.
To Cuomo, a power-mad politician who had zero experience in the mortgage industry, neither the inherently conservative nature of mortgage lending nor the enormous (and obvious) financial risks associated with the GSEs trillion dollar mortgage portfolios would stand in the way of his mad dash for more and more power. On October 31, 2000, Andrew Cuomo declared that fully 50% of GSE mortgages had to go to low and moderate-income borrowers. This decision sealed the fate of the United States – the ramifications of this decision were that catastrophic.