Dean Baker (co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC) argues that the US is heading towards a recession, if not already in one, and he says that the main cause is the collapse of the housing bubble and not the spending on the Iraq war, though that is not helping either.
The villains in this story are the economists who somehow couldn’t see an $8 trillion housing bubble, the banks that fueled the bubble with bad and often predatory loans, the regulatory institutions that did nothing to prevent the growth of the bubble and the spread of predatory loans, and most of all, Alan Greenspan and the Fed who blessed the whole thing.
We have to hold these folks responsible for their bubble economics. The best place to start would be to remove them from positions where they are still making economic policy.
On Tuesday, we saw the Federal Reserve decide to pump $200 billion into the financial system to try and alleviate the crisis and it sent stock prices soaring that day.
I didn’t understand exactly what they did or how it was supposed to work because the news was reported in a very obscure way. Fortunately for people like me, in another article Baker explains clearly what is going on here and argues that the media is not characterizing this action for what it really is: a federal bailout of the banks that were partly responsible for this mess.
Can’t the media find any economists who don’t think that handing hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars to the big banks and the incredibly rich people who own and manage them is a good idea? Apparently not, given the coverage so far to the Fed’s proposal to lend $200 billion to the banks using mortgage backed securities as collateral.
The workings of the Fed and the financial markets can appear complicated, so let’s simplify matters a bit to make it more clear what is going on here. Suppose that it was suddenly discovered that much of the wealth held by the country’s leading financial institutions was in fact counterfeit. Instead of having hundreds of billions of dollars of real currency in their vaults, institutions like Citigroup, Merrill Lynch, and Bears Stearns actually had hundreds of billions of dollars of counterfeit currency. Suppose further that the public did not know exactly who held what in terms of counterfeit currency, only that all of them had a lot of it. (The point here is that these banks hold mortgage backed securities, many of which are only worth a fraction of their face value, and therefore can be viewed as the equivalent of counterfeit currency.)
In such circumstances, investors would be very reluctant to accept the credit of any of the major financial institutions. They couldn’t know whether most of their assets were in fact counterfeit, and they were dealing with a bankrupt institution, or whether the counterfeit currency was only a limited share of the wealth, which would not jeopardize the institution’s ability to meet its obligations.
This is in fact the credit squeeze that we’ve have recently witnessed. The spread between the interest rates on a wide variety of assets and the interest rate on safe assets (U.S. government debt) has soared. As a result, the Fed’s effort to stimulate the economy, by lowering the federal funds rate, has been largely unsuccessful because other interest rates have remained high.
In response to this situation the Fed today announced that it would lend $200 billion to banks and other financial firms, accepting mortgage backed securities as collateral. This is effectively the same as saying that the Fed is going to lend money to banks and accept the counterfeit currency as collateral, treating it just as though it were real money.
The intended effect of this policy is to convince other investors that the counterfeit currency is in fact real currency, or at the very least that there is a really huge sucker out there (the Fed) which is prepared to treat the counterfeit currency as real currency.
So how does this story play out? Well, insofar as the Fed is successful, the counterfeit currency retains its value for a while longer. This allows Citigroup, Merrill Lynch, Bears Stearns and the rest of the big boys more time to dump their counterfeit currency on suckers who haven’t figured out how the game is played.
It is possible that they won’t be able to find enough suckers, in which case these banks will end up defaulting on their loans and the Fed (i.e. the government) has lost tens or hundreds of billions dollars paying good money for counterfeit currency. Alternatively, perhaps the big boys are successful and can offload enough of their counterfeit money to restore themselves to solvency before the music stops. Then the Fed is repaid, but the counterfeit money now sits in the hands of other, less informed, or less inside, investors.
You should really read the whole of this excellent article.
Baker shows how once again, we have the Federal Reserve colluding with the government to use taxpayer money to protect and enrich the wealthiest people in the country.
POST SCRIPT: The work of Satan
Almost everyone has had encounters with those annoying little plastic containers of milk that always seem to squirt onto your clothes when you try to open them. Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie deal with this menace appropriately.