Monday, September 22, 2008

Praying to the ghost of Milton Friedman

Guys like Captain Fishsticks are running pretty hard these days to blame the current financial crisis on something other than capitalism's say, baser, instincts. Westover had a piece at recently saying that we should have listened to Ron "Cassandra" Paul who had it all figured out in 2003:

It's not like there wasn't anybody who saw the economic woes of the week on the horizon.

On Sept. 10, 2003, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, testified before House Financial Services Committee, which was holding hearings regarding special privileges extended to government sponsored enterprises (GSEs). Think Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. In his testimony. Paul criticized such privileges in general and warned of the potential for disaster posed by government involvement with Fannie and Freddie specifically.

Paul noted that according to the Congressional Budget Office, housing related GSEs received $13.6 billion in indirect federal subsidies in fiscal 2000 and had a line of credit with the United States Treasury exceeding $2 billion. That line of credit Paul said was an explicit promise by the Treasury to bail out GSE's in times of economic difficulty.

Now when you consider these numbers in comparison to the trillion dollar problem we have now, it really isn't much, is it boys and girls? It is sort of like blaming the Community Reinvestment Act, another red herring. This latter one has been a talking point bleated often enough that it even shows up in comments.

For a better place to look for causes, boys and girls, Spot will return to Kevin Phillips:

KEVIN PHILLIPS: The numbers [documenting the hijacking of the economy by the financial sector] are there in chapter two [of Phillips' recent book]. You had essentially a financial sector that, let's say, was sort of neck and neck with manufacturing back in the late 1980s. But they got control in a lot of ways in the agenda. Finance has been bailed out. I mean, everybody thinks this is horrible now what we're seeing in terms of bailouts. Even a lot of the people who do it think it's bad.

This has been going on since the beginning of the 1980s. Finance has been preferred as the sector that got government support. Manufacturing slides, nobody helps. Finance has a problem, Federal Reserve to the rescue. Treasury to the rescue. Subsidies this, that, and other.

So bit by bit, they got bigger. And the other reason they got bigger was because this became a country that was further and further in debt. Consumerism was just pushed to the nth degree. People were given the sense that they had to buy everything and they had to borrow to do it increasingly.

But we've seen the central component of the rise of the financial sector is the rise of the debt industry. Mortgage, credit cards, all these gimmicks that Wall Street sells-- just all kinds of products. And, of course, the products are laying an egg all over the world right now.

BILL MOYERS: You're very hard in here on Alan Greenspan's tenure at the Fed.

KEVIN PHILLIPS: Well, I know Alan from the Republican campaign back in 1968. He was always a very scholarly, data-driven guy. But I think, for some reason or other, his chairmanship will be remembered as turn on the spigots.

BILL MOYERS: Turn on the spigots?

KEVIN PHILLIPS: Turn on the spigots. He started in 1987 with a crash that was a wicked one in one day in 1987. And he turned on the spigots. And they had the huge growth of the tech bubble in the 1990s. And then right after the tech and the stock market bubble blew up in 2000, you had 9/11. So there was a need for more stimulus. And they ginned up the stimulus again hugely.

And the upshot is that during Greenspan's tenure from 1987 to 2006, what they call total credit market debt in the United States quadrupled, quadrupled from about $11 trillion up to $44, $45, $46 trillion. And finance got the great bulk of it. And Greenspan would do nothing to disturb finance.

He wouldn't puncture a bubble. He wouldn't crack down on the exotic mortgages. He really wouldn't do much of anything except give obscure speeches in which, you know, he mumbled the different directions so nobody would know what he meant. But basically he gave finance what they wanted.

It wasn't just mortgages.

Spotty, is Phillips saying that the finance industry was not properly regulated?

That's what he's saying, grasshopper.

Sticks quotes Ron Paul about "market discipline," but a market that is not constrained within a perimeter to keep "bad capitalism" from driving out "good capitalism" will, as Phillips says, always lead to a bubble.

No comments: