Its actually kind of ironic: Two Fed Governors warn Federal Reserve Chief Alan Greenspan about major problems — and are promptly ignored by the maestro. Ed Gramlich on subprime and predatory lending, and Bill Poole on Fannie and Freddie.
In the Sunday NYT, Poole argues that now Fannie and Freddie must be saved for systemic reasons — but then taken apart:
CRITICS of the Congressional housing package complain that we are now committing taxpayers to huge new outlays to rescue Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. That view is wrong: Congressional inaction over the past 15 years had already committed taxpayers to the bailout.
Congress could and should have required Fannie and Freddie — which enjoy a peculiar and highly advantageous status as quasi-public agencies and quasi-private companies — to maintain more capital, but didn’t. Now the costs from Congressional inaction are becoming painfully apparent, and they cannot be avoided. To permit the two mortgage giants to default would set off a worldwide crisis. But we can decide what should become of Freddie and Fannie after this crisis. The best option is one getting little mention in Washington: get rid of them.
Because the government cannot permit Fannie and Freddie to default, their obligations are part and parcel of the full-faith-and-credit obligations of the United States. Thus, the national debt, usually viewed as the $5 trillion held by the public, is really $10 trillion once we add the Fannie and Freddie obligations and the mortgage-backed securities they guarantee.
For now, the Congressional Budget Office has entered a “place holder” of $25 billion to cover the bailout costs over the next two years but recognizes that this is a guess. The important issue is not the 2009 outlay, but the total that will be required eventually. Even if the two firms are technically insolvent, the market will continue to buy their obligations readily, for it understands that they are fully backed by the government.
Given this faith on the part of the marketplace, there will be no immediate catastrophe that would force the federal government to provide additional capital to Fannie and Freddie. The situation is similar to the one in the 1980s, when many savings and loans were technically insolvent yet had no difficulty attracting deposits, as they were covered by federal deposit insurance. So the federal government has the option of delaying any ultimate resolution of the Fannie-Freddie mess, as it did with the savings and loans 20 years ago, in hopes that the two giants can dig themselves out of the hole. Still, it seems more likely that — again, just as in the 1980s — the longer we delay, the higher the eventual taxpayer cost will be. (emphasis added)
Well stated . . .
Blaming Greenspan (June 2007)
Subprime Mortgages: America’s Latest Boom and Bust (May 2008)
Too Big to Fail, or to Survive
NYT: July 27, 2008