- "As Americans we must always remember that we all
have a common enemy, an enemy that is dangerous, powerful and relentless.
I refer, of course, to the federal government." -- Dave Barry
- You can watch hours and hours of news, or read columns
of print in most newspapers, and come away no wiser about the causes and
prospects for the current financial turmoil.
- Most journalists and TV talking heads don't really understand
the subject, and those that do speak and write using so much jargon that
the average person must feel he or she is trying to follow a conversation
in ancient Hebrew.
- We're going to try to cut through the jargon, and explain
the situation as best we can, in plain English. If you find our explanation
of value, please forward it to others.
- The current housing crisis, and all that flows from it,
comes from two main sources, both deriving from Washington.
- First, Congress passed something called the "Community
Reinvestment Act" in 1977, resulting in the creation of bureaucratic
regulations designed to encourage, or even compel, financial institutions
to make loans to people with lower incomes. These regulations were then
amended in 1995 and 2005 to create different rules for institutions of
different sizes, so that various kinds of institutions would be better
able to meet the government's goals for fostering home ownership in lower
- Second, the Federal Reserve starting making loans available
to the banking system at extremely low interest rates.
- Third, steps one and two combined to make cheap housing
loans available to people who could not have afforded or qualified for
them before. This caused an increased demand for housing that sent home
prices spiralling upward.
- Fourth, mortgage lenders managed the risk involved in
making these loans by selling their mortgages to other companies, which
in turn thought that they were managing their own risk because they had
a wide variety of mortgages, from many different types of borrowers, in
- Fifth, these decisions about how to manage the increased
risk created by the "Community Reinvestment Act" were all in
error, because the Fed's policy of easy money had falsely inflated the
value of ALL homes. This meant that good mortgages could not be used to
manage the risk involved in questionable mortgages, because the value of
ALL homes was falsely inflated.
- Sixth, as with all inflationary booms, increases in home
prices finally absorbed the increased purchasing power provided by the
Fed, leading to a slow-down in home purchases. When this moment arrived
everyone realized that the homes they had purchased weren't really worth
what they had paid for them. The defaults and foreclosures then began,
along with the collapse of the financial institutions that owned these
- Now, the complicated, multi-part scenario described above
has been simplified in popular reporting to just two words: sub-prime loans.
These two words, combined with the idea that lenders took advantage of
poor unsuspecting customers, are supposed to explain everything. But this
explanation is both simple and simply insufficient.
- A study by the Mortgage Bankers Association tells the
true story. In the third quarter of last year fixed rate mortgages accounted
for 45% of foreclosures, while sub-prime ARMs accounted for only 43%.
- It's not hard to understand why. Who wants to be on the
hook for a mortgage that is tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars higher
than the property is really worth? Rather than bear this burden, many borrowers
are choosing to default, and walk away from their properties. This is especially
happening with speculators who bought houses in order to "flip"
them. To cope with these foreclosures . . .
- Banks have offered their bad mortgages as collateral
to borrow money from the Federal Reserve. The money the Fed lends through
this process is created out of thin air. This has two shocking consequences.
First, the Fed is coming to effectively own an increasing portion of America's
stock of housing, and two, these Federal Reserve loans are inflating the
money supply, causing prices to rise all through the economy.
- As the Fed creates more and more new dollars, the value
of all the previously existing dollars declines. This forces people to
seek ways to protect their accumulated wealth against the devaluing effects
of monetary inflation. Thus . . .
- People buy other currencies, causing the exchange value
of the dollar to fall
- They buy gold, pushing the price up above $1,000 an ounce
- And they buy oil futures, driving up those prices too
- But it gets worse . . .
- Monetary inflation is making foreign investors reluctant
to buy U.S. Treasury bonds. Who wants to hold bonds denominated in dollars
when the Federal Reserve is reducing the value of the dollar?
- The "London Telegraph" reports that foreign
participation at a recent auction of U.S. Treasury bonds fell from 25%
to less than 6%.
- Sadly, there is every reason to expect this phenomenon
to continue. This will leave the Federal government with only two options
for funding its ever growing deficits. The government must either pay much
more interest on its bonds, to compensate lenders for the monetary inflation,
or it must sell its bonds to the Federal Reserve System, which will buy
the bonds with yet more money created out of thin air, adding still more
fuel to the inflationary fire.
- The more the Federal government has to pay in interest,
the larger the deficits will grow, or, the more it borrows from the Federal
Reserve, the more it will have to pay in interest to private lenders. It's
a vicious bind.
- There is one thing the Federal government could do immediately
to lessen this bind. It could cut spending to balance its budget, thereby
reducing inflationary pressures. Please use our "Unfunded Liabilities"
campaign to ask Congress to do exactly that.
- Use your personal comments to tell Congress that you
know foreign participation in U.S. bond auctions is declining. Tell them
you do not want them to sell their bonds to the Federal Reserve, thereby
driving up the money supply. CONGRESS MUST BALANCE THE BUDGET NOW.
- Perry Willis
- Communications Director
- DownsizeDC.org, Inc.
- D o w n s i z e r - D i s p a t c h is the official email
list of DownsizeDC.org, Inc. & Downsize DC Foundation