Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Early warning on the financial crisis

In as early as 2003, someone had the wisdom to see what was coming. Who said the following?

One of the major government privileges granted to GSEs is a line of credit with the United States Treasury. According to some estimates, the line of credit may be worth over $2 billion. This explicit promise by the Treasury to bail out GSEs in times of economic difficulty helps the GSEs attract investors who are willing to settle for lower yields than they would demand in the absence of the subsidy. Thus, the line of credit distorts the allocation of capital. More importantly, the line of credit is a promise on behalf of the government to engage in a huge unconstitutional and immoral income transfer from working Americans to holders of GSE debt.

The connection between the GSEs and the government helps isolate the GSE management from market discipline. This isolation from market discipline is the root cause of the recent reports of mismanagement occurring at Fannie and Freddie. After all, if Fannie and Freddie were not underwritten by the federal government, investors would demand Fannie and Freddie provide assurance that they follow accepted management and accounting practices.

Ironically, by transferring the risk of a widespread mortgage default, the government increases the likelihood of a painful crash in the housing market. This is because the special privileges granted to Fannie and Freddie have distorted the housing market by allowing them to attract capital they could not attract under pure market conditions. As a result, capital is diverted from its most productive use into housing. This reduces the efficacy of the entire market and thus reduces the standard of living of all Americans.

Despite the long-term damage to the economy inflicted by the government's interference in the housing market, the government's policy of diverting capital to other uses creates a short-term boom in housing. Like all artificially-created bubbles, the boom in housing prices cannot last forever. When housing prices fall, homeowners will experience difficulty as their equity is wiped out.

Furthermore, the holders of the mortgage debt will also have a loss. These losses will be greater than they would have otherwise been had government policy not actively encouraged overinvestment in housing.

Perhaps the Federal Reserve can stave off the day of reckoning by purchasing GSE debt and pumping liquidity into the housing market, but this cannot hold off the inevitable drop in the housing market forever. In fact, postponing the necessary but painful market corrections will only deepen the inevitable fall. The more people invested in the market, the greater the effects across the economy when the bubble bursts.

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. I therefore hope this committee will soon stand up for American taxpayers and investors by acting on my Free Housing Market Enhancement Act.

The answer is Ron Paul in a speech he gave in September 2003. The pointer from the Mises Blog. Now most financial experts wouldn't have agreed with Paul then, and probably won't agree with him now. But the bottom line is the Austrian analysis is the only one which predicted what was coming.

In late 2005, Tyler Cowen, himself no Austrian, put a post on "If I was an Austrian post" on his influential Marginal Revolution blog. In it he made several predictions as to what would happen if he were to follow the Austrian business cycle theory. As Tyler later admitted, most of it has come true. He said however, loose monetary policy, like the Austrians thought was only one of several and less important triggers to the problem. Here Paul seems to suggest that apart from loose monetary policy, government guaranteed line of credit to Fannie and Freddie was at fault for creating the 'mal-investment' and the high risk-taking.

Whether you comepletly agree with the analysis or not, you have to hand it to Ron Paul, he called this one. That's why he's all over the media now.

No comments: