Posts Tagged ‘crisis’

Yale Harvard and Basel style Free Enterprise

Sunday, May 16th, 2010

After the collapse of socialism, the elite support free enterprise – they support it the way they support free speech.

If anyone is allowed to disagree with the orthodoxy taught at Yale and Harvard, or even doubt it, this endangers the free speech of people from Harvard and Yale, and similarly if any enterprise run by people from Harvard or Yale could go bust, this endangers the free enterprise of people from Harvard and Yale.

Basel II is tens of thousands of pages of regulations, no one knows how vast it is, because not all the regulations can be found in any one place, but it could all be replaced by two simple rules:  Politically correct victim groups shall always find it easy to borrow money, regardless of their ability or intention to pay it back, and politically well connected businesses shall always make money, regardless  of whether they are competently run or not.

The seeds of the crisis were the CRA and the ratings agencies.  I have discussed the CRA at length, but the CRA would have been resisted had it not been for other changes in the system that insulated the players against the consequences of making bad loans.  These changes, guaranteeing that badly run businesses would succeed, started with the bailout of the ratings agencies in the seventies, forty years ago.

Back then, the ratings agencies were in trouble, because they had made a lot of bad calls.  It seemed that whenever an institution was going under, the guys at the credit rating agencies were the last to know about it.  Back then, they sold their assessments of credit risk to subscribers. So no one wanted to subscribe.

So in the seventies, the regulators stepped in to make people use the credit rating services. In 1975 the SEC created the Nationally Recognized Statistical Rating Organization (NRSRO) designation. Credit rating agencies so designated received what was in effect a grant of governmental power. The SEC then relied on the NRSRO’s credit risk assessment in establishing capital requirements on SEC-regulated financial institutions – which meant that for SEC-regulated financial institutions to borrow and lend, they had to get rated.  A cascade of regulatory decisions followed over the years, each decision forcing more and more reliance on the risk assessments issued by these demonstrably incompetent institutions – and less and less reliance on other people’s risk assessment.  For more and more organizations, it became illegal for them to make their own judgments about risk.

By the 1990s, as Levine and Partnoy tell us, the NRSROs were not selling assessments of credit risks, but licenses to issue securities.  The rating agencies did not genuinely assess risk, nor did anyone really expect them to.  Nor could repeatedly demonstrated incompetence reduce demand for their services, so the ratings agencies had no incentive to provide correct credit ratings.  Since their income was entirely dependent on the state granting them power, they did, however, have an incentive to make politically correct credit ratings.  If you lend to the poor, the oppressed, etc, and you are run by good old boys from Yale and Harvard, and you make donations to the right politicians, the NRSROs have a very powerful incentive to give you a good credit rating.  And if you have a good credit rating, you can borrow as much as you like – and if you go bust, the government will bail you out.

Badly run companies that had been empowered to borrow as much as they pleased got in trouble – and were bailed out for the same reasons as they had been empowered to borrow as much as they pleased.

In addition to corruptly favorably rating the politically correct, the NRSROs corruptly favorably rated those who simply gave them money, which is perhaps what those who complain about “deregulation” have in mind.  The banks creating structured financial products would first pay the rating agencies for “guidance” on how to package the securities to get high ratings and then pay the rating agencies to rate the resultant products – a glaring conflict of interest, though one less apt to lead to bailouts when the proverbial hits the fan.

Now since all this dirty dealing has cost the taxpayer trillions, you may well ask what measures have been taken to punish the NRSROs for bad conduct, or give them incentives for better conduct in future, or indeed restrain them from continuing to do this stuff?

All the strengthened regulation is regulation to make people continue to treat NRSRO ratings as true, even though it has become horrifyingly apparent that the ratings are generally false.  All the strengthened regulation is more of what caused this mess in the first place.  Any real reform would necessarily start by abolishing the legal privilege of NRSROs, would have to start by rolling back regulations to what they were in 1974.  Instead, compulsion and bailouts are being applied to make NRSRO ratings true, or to enable people to continue pretend that they are true.  Their power has been increased, their misconduct unpunished, and their incentives have become even worse.

American debt

Sunday, September 6th, 2009

Total federal debt twelve trillion

That is not too alarming in itself. It is a bit less than GDP, and for most countries, trouble ensue when debt is around twice GDP. The liberty papers are not too worried.

Total American indebtedness (public and “private”) is sixty trillion, which is much larger than federal debt, and has been rising very rapidly. The primary cause of this rise has been implicit and explicit governmental and quasi governmental guarantees – FHA guarantees, debt of too-big-to-fail corporations, guarantees by too-big-to-fail corporations, state debt, for example California, and so on and so forth.

Some substantial part of this sixty trillion is secured by real assets such as houses and the income stream of hard working people, and some substantial part is not.

Thus the excess “private” debt is not private.  The normal level of public and “private” debt is about twice GDP, say twenty six trillion, so we are about thirty trillion or so in the hole and getting deeper fast – well past the danger level of twice GDP.

The vast majority of defaults were black and hispanic

Friday, August 7th, 2009

Hat tip Steve Sailer who provides the breakdown of defaults.

The proximate cause of the international crisis is that the US$, the international reserve currency, lost much credibility.  The proximate cause of the US$ losing credibility was massive defaults by blacks and Hispanics, and the proximate cause of the massive defaults by blacks and Hispanics was affirmative action lending to people whom I could tell at a glance from twenty paces were highly unlikely to repay their debts.

In the last days before the crash, I saw in California a steady parade of people buying expensive houses no money down whose own mothers must have been reluctant to lend them ten dollars. Lax though credit standards were, not one of them would have been able to borrow money had he been non Hispanic white.

Laderman and Reid of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco have done the unthinkably politically incorrect, and though they do not directly reveal the proportion of defaults that were affirmative action, they tell us:

We also find that race has an independent effect on foreclosure even after controlling for borrower income and credit score. In particular, African American borrowers were 3.3 times as likely as white borrowers to be in foreclosure, whereas Latino and Asian borrowers were 2.5 and 1.6 times respectively more likely to be in foreclosure as white borrowers.

They also argue that CRA loans were just fine:

a CRA lender significantly decreases the likelihood of foreclosure

They obtained this contradictory result by controlling for race – in other words, they are not saying CRA loans were unlikely to default, but that a CRA loan made to a non hispanic white is (unsurprisingly) unlikely to default – in other words, affirmative action loans have no harmful effect, indeed beneficial effect, to the extent that they were not in fact affirmative action loans.

They do not directly tell us what proportion of defaulters were black and Hispanic, but since the great majority of defaulters were subprime, and 77% of subprime borrowers were black and Hispanic, and blacks and Hispanics three times more likely to default than whites …

What is wrong with the Bush/Obama economic stimulus

Sunday, July 5th, 2009

Tim Kane tells us:

Ironically, the harshest critics of Obama are also overly optimistic. The White House wants to believe the stimulus is working. The critics want to believe the stimulus wasn’t necessary because the economy is getting better already.

No, that is not what the harshest critics believe.  The harshest critics, such as myself, believe that the Keynesian description of the crisis only addressed a small and unimportant part of the truth, thus stimulus could only have a small and unimportant benefit.  The economy is not “starting to get better already”, rather it is only beginning to go bad.

The crisis was originally well described by the Austrian model of recessions – we discovered that we were erroneously over investing in the finance and housing sectors, that the value supposedly created by financiers and real estate agents was largely phony, and that many of the customers for housing were unable or unwilling to pay, and that as a result of CAFE and other restrictions on new cars, new cars were less useful than old cars.  As a result, we got a diminution not in aggregate demand but in demand in particular sectors, which cannot be remedied by aggregate stimulus, but only by labor and capital mobility.

The continuing crisis is well described by the “Atlas Shrugged” model, rather than the Austrian or Keynesian model: the government smashes capitalism causing the economy goes to hell.  Thus, for example, a substantial part of the stimulus package was to impose burdens on employers who lay off workers, which of course increases, rather than decreases layoffs.

Our new permanently high level of unemployment will resemble the permanently high unemployment of many European countries.

Creating the next crisis 2

Friday, June 26th, 2009

Remember all that junk mail:

Bad credit?
No credit?
No problem! Buy the house of your dreams with no money down!

Well thanks to the great Bush-Obama stimulus package, looks like you will be seeing it again.

When the government says that private lending has dried up, this is code for the strange absence of no money down loans to people with bad credit.  People I know, such as my sister in law, who had money and good credit found that lenders rolled out the red carpet for them.  There was never lending crisis for traditional borrowers.

When the government says there is a lending crisis, it means the problem is that a drunken no-hablo-English wetback seems to be finding a bit of trouble borrowing.  But never fear.  Your ever helpful and benevolent government is remedying this terrible market failure.  Whatever would we do without regulation and subsidy?

The FHA is now providing one hundred percent government guarantees for loans to people with bad credit.  Supposedly the borrower must put three and a half percent down, but since real estate agent fees, mortgage broker fees, and assorted charges theoretically add up to slightly over ten percent, a clawback from the various people involved can and does reduce this to zero.  When I transact a house, I usually manage to clawback four to six percent from these various charges, so if I was purchasing a house with what on paper was a three and half percent down loan, and managed to get my usual clawbacks, I would get the house and two percent cash in hand – negative money down.  And that is without a kickback from the seller. Of course that is why the lenders would rather do the loan with a drunken no-hablo-English wetback, who is unlikely to be so fierce at clawing back and chiseling down their fees as I am.

When you buy a house on a loan with small money down, you usually also get an under the table kickback from the seller.  With a kickback from the seller and clawbacks from agent and broker fees, three and a half percent down vanishes fast.

The universal government white paper:

Friday, June 19th, 2009

In my earlier post Creating the next crisis I critique the same white paper on solving the financial crisis as Arnold Kling critiques

On of his commentators has an excellent summary of this paper, and indeed every similar governmental and quasi governmental paper addressing every crisis:

  1. Politicians are of course entirely lily white and innocent, except that the other party allowed bad people in the private sector to do bad things.
  2. Some government agencies failed to do enough.
  3. Solving the problem requires more power to the government.
  4. Those government agencies that failed the worst, shall get the largest increase in money and power.

Inflation looms

Friday, June 19th, 2009

Bryan Caplan, favorably citing Sumner, tells us “stop worrying about inflation

Supposedly we should stop worrying about inflation, because the bond markets predict only moderate levels of inflation. Supposedly we can determine future inflation by looking at the difference between Treasury Securities, and Treasury Inflation Protected Securities. Supposedly, this tells us what the people investing in securities think that inflation will be, and they are pretty good at predicting inflation.

However, this tells us only what people who are confident that inflation will be moderate think inflation will be, because if you are worried about immoderate levels of inflation, you do not diversify into long term Treasury Inflation Protected Securities, you diversify into gold, silver, guns, ammunition, rice and beans, which is roughly what the Chinese are doing, except that they are also diversifying into copper and iron, and private Chinese are not allowed to diversify into guns and ammo.

The bond market does not tell us what the smart money people think inflation will be. It tells us what those among the smart money people who do not expect very high levels of inflation think inflation will be.

What are the Chinese worried about?

They are not worried about the possibility four percent inflation in 2011. They are worried about the possibility of four hundred percent inflation in 2020. And so they are not buying Treasury Inflation Protected Securities. And so the difference between Treasury Securities and Treasury Inflation Protected Securities fails to reflect their concerns. And so, if we look at the bond market, what it tells us is that the Chinese think inflation may well hit four percent in 2011, but does not tell us what they think inflation will be in 2020. But if you listen to what they are saying, what they are saying is that they think there is a substantial risk of very high levels of inflation in eight years or so.

Governments tend to go down the tubes when total public debt is around two hundred percent of GDP or so. Thus a deficit of ten percent of GDP or so is sustainable for ten or twenty years or so. Trouble is that in addition to an on budget deficit of ten percent or so, there is also a much larger off budget deficit, in the form of an ever growing pile of government guarantees, which there is no will to restrain. Put the two deficits together, crisis looms.

Trees do not grow to the sky. That which cannot continue, must stop.


Thursday, May 7th, 2009

Megan nails it:

the government is using its intervention in the banking system to pressure banks to give special deals to the government’s special friends.


Wednesday, May 6th, 2009

From the point of view of oligarchs and crony capitalists, the crisis is not that a lot loans were made to no hablo English wetbacks. The crisis is that people are rejecting securitization of debt.

The Obama regime’s capitalism smashing measures are intended not to destroy capitalism, nor to install socialism, but to restore securitization of debt. This is socialism for the financiers, not for the proles:  Crony socialism, crony capitalism, a fascist economic order.

Regular old fashioned loans are going through just fine. There is no credit crisis, the financial system is not freezing up. Securitization is freezing up, and it @#$% well should freeze up.

When debts are securitized, many different debts of many different borrowers are piled together into a great big pool of debt, and then shares in the pool are sold to lots of creditors – which means that there is no one person responsible for verifying that any one particular loan is sound, that the assets securing the loan are worth what they are supposed to be worth, that the person responsible for making payments on the loan can read and write, that he speaks the language that the papers that he signed were written in, that he was sufficiently sober when he signed them to remember signing them, or even that the paperwork exists and is in good order.

For securitization to work, the particular organization that arranged the loan, and the particular people in the particular organization, would have to remain responsible for that loan.  The debtor would have to be making payments through the people that arranged the loan for the life of the loan.

Securitization leads carelessness with large sums of other people’s money. Such carelessness leads to crime. Crime destroys the trust that is necessary for the economic system to work. Securitization must stop. If securitization continues, capitalism will end. By and large, those who favor continued securitization are wealthy criminals, who personally benefited from stolen money, as over the years carelessness slowly became indistinguishable from deliberate fraud.   The problem before Obama was not lack of regulation, but that the foxes were regulating the chickens, and now under Obama the foxes are still regulating the chickens.  Each Obama intervention has the effect of keeping the criminals in power over other people’s money, resisting the natural propensity of capitalism to purify itself through creative destruction.

Securitization was born in fraud:  The original motivation for securitization was the 1995 Community Reinvestment Act. If the government is pressuring you to make loans on the basis of race, rather than willingness and ability to pay one’s just debts, you want to get rid of the politically correct mortgages to some other sucker as fast as possible.

Securitization of debt is only legitimate when the people that arranged the loan remain linked to the loan.  Otherwise, securitization is a scam, as the origins of mortgage securitization demonstrate.

Galt strike or inadequate aggregate demand?

Friday, May 1st, 2009

The Randian concept of a Galt Strike is that if the elite slack off, the masses will be impoverished – that countries are rich or poor according to whether the elite is productive, while the masses and resources do not matter much, except in extreme cases such as oil rich sheikdoms.

There has been a large fall in GDP over the past six months:

The Keynesian explanation of this fall is inadequate aggregate demand – the economy could easily produce more, but no one is spending due to depression of animal spirits, in which case a big spending government will make everything rosy.

The Austrian and Chicago explanation is complicated, and perhaps confused.

The Randian explanation is that it is a Galt Strike – the elite are slacking off, and focusing on hiding their wealth and economic activities from the government, rather than creating value, in which case big government spending will merely result in inflation or massive borrowing from abroad.

Core CPI will in time tell us which account is correct. We will know by about November 2010.

  • If  late in 2010 core CPI is substantially higher, nominal GDP substantially higher, but real GDP still woeful, then Randians will have been proven correct.
  • If  late in 2010 core CPI is lower or unchanged, then both sides can argue they were right, and the Austrians will probably have some explanation that I will be disinclined to follow.
  • If  late in 2010 core CPI only rises moderately, but real GDP rises substantially, then Keynesians will have been proven correct.

I am betting on disturbing levels of core inflation with a distinctly unimpressive recovery in real GDP.