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Geithner covers for corruption on Pennsylvania Avenue



Charles Kadlec has an excellent essay, "Geithner Covers for Corruption on Pennsylvania Avenue," in the recent issue of Forbes. He makes it quite clear that, contrary to Geithner's assertion in his recent WSJ op-ed, the recent financial crisis had its origins not in a lack of regulation, but in extensive meddling by the federal government in the housing and lending market over many years. The last thing we need is more federal oversight and intervention in free markets. An excerpt:

[Kadlec to Secretary Geithner:] First, your essay glosses over the central role the federal government played in creating the crisis. In particular, the government through Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac directed $5.2 trillion of capital to increase the supply of mortgages. In addition, it passed a law that required banks to make billions of dollars in loans to individuals that were unlikely to pay off the loans, in the end with 0% down.
In 1998, Fannie Mae announced it would purchase mortgages with only 3% down. And, in 2001, it offered a program that required no down payment at all. Between 2001 and 2004, subprime mortgages grew from $160 billion to $540 billion. And between 2005 and 2007, Fannie Mae’s acquisition of mortgages with less than 10% down almost tripled. These loans are now known as “subprime” and “alt A” loans. At the time they were made, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac encouraged their issuance by lowering their standards and buying them up from the now vilified mortgage brokers, S&Ls, banks and Wall Street investment banks.
Second, your claim that increased regulatory oversight would have prevented the crisis requires a credulous belief in the wisdom and courage of those in power. Regulators with all of the necessary powers have failed in their most basic task of preventing fraud including Bernie Maddoff’s Ponzi scheme, and now the still unexplained disappearance of $1.6 billion of customer money at MF Global. Yet, you ask us to believe tens of thousands of pages of new regulations will somehow empower you and other elite public servants to prevent another financial crisis?
As we know now, you and the other members of the Federal Open Market Committee in 2006 did not grasp the implications of the then faltering housing market for the general economy or the health of the banking system. As a consequence, you and your colleagues did not use the powers you had to head off the financial crisis when there was still plenty of time to act.

The self-regulatory check normally provided by markets on activities that are likely to lose money — lenders backing away — was simply blocked by the government’s intervention in the capital markets. As you must know, six top executives of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have been charged by the Securities and Exchange Commission with securities fraud for hiding the size of the purchases of low quality mortgages from the market.
This activity was not due to a lack of regulation or oversight as you claim. Both companies are under the direct supervision of a federal regulator and Congress. At the time these loans were being purchased by these two Government Sponsored Enterprises, their actions were defended by many in Congress who, led by Senator Chris Dodd and Congressman Barney Frank, saw such reckless lending as a successful government initiative.

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