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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Selling His Sowell to Wall St.

Thomas Sowell writes:
"Financial institutions are not being bailed out as a favor to them or their stockholders..."

"The real point is to avoid a major contraction of credit that could cause major downturns in output and employment, ruining millions of people, far beyond the financial institutions involved. If it was just a question of the financial institutions themselves, they could be left to sink or swim. But it is not."

"But bailing out people who made ill-advised mortgages makes no more sense that bailing out people who lost their life savings in Las Vegas casinos."

OK, Tommy baby (I now treat him with such disrespect as he has shown himself to be a mere pitchman for banking interests), how about this:

That $700 billion could completely pay off about 3.5 million $200,000 mortgages. If the Treasury gave people in risk of foreclosure that money, those people would keep their homes (yes, yes, the money would need to be in the form of coupons only good for mortgage payments), and all of that bad mortgage-backed security debt would no longer be bad -- the financial system would be saved!

So if you're goal isn't merely to save the wealthy investment bankers who fund your chair at the Hoover institute and allow them to seize the homes of a lot of poor people, why not back my plan instead of Paulson's?

10 comments:

  1. My girlfriend asked me the same questions this morning and I had no way to argue the point. The Countywides, et. al. were all too happy to write these mortgages with all the rules of good loan making thrown out the window since Wall Street was all too happy to buy the mortgages and then securitize them, so why not just decouple the whole thing? Let these mortgage holders that haven't already been foreclosed on pay back the loans, at renegotiated terms to the banks with governement help and those banks buy back the unsecuritized mortgage portfolios from the investment banks (those that are still solvent)?

    The homeowners still get to stay where they live instead of the homes getting thrown into an increasingly poor real estate market, and the banks and mortgage companies still get paid, albeit, less than they would have. But hey, there is a price to be paid for writing junk loans.

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  2. As the case for the bailout is presented, the $700 billion is really a capital requirement, and should not be thought of as sum total cost of the bailout. Treasury goes out and buys $700 billion of this garbage, seasons it, trades it and allows some to come to maturity, and maybe in the end doesn’t lose anything. Yes, we are talking government here, so it’s conceivable that they can lose more than 100% on their investments, but it doesn’t strike me as likely.

    I’m not for bailing out Wall Street, nor am I interested in helping Joe 6 Pack up-to-his-eyeballs in mortgage debt. Bear Stearns the banks, let them get to the brink, and instead of writing puts for a JP Morgan, just take the crap from the failed bank’s books in some kind of expedited bankruptcy, and let the vultures feast on what’s left, like what happened to Lehman. The banks are de-levering anyhow, and aren’t likely to put much of this touted $700 billion into a new round of lending.

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  3. So if you're goal isn't merely to save the wealthy investment bankers who fund your chair at the Hoover institute and allow them to seize the homes of a lot of poor people, why not back my plan instead of Paulson's?

    Ah, now I see why Silas and you fight so much. It's like when Superman fought Clark Kent in the third movie.

    Gene, I'm pretty sure Sowell is not viewing himself that way. If someone came up and offered him money to write something false, he wouldn't take it (I bet).

    I grant you, that is not the same thing as saying that someone's funding affects his judgment. (Yes Silas, please explain the irony of my statements to any new readers.)

    But in your post, you sound as if you are sure Sowell is consciously writing BS, and I would bet a lot of money that he doesn't think he is. I.e. he actually believes in what he is writing, and it just so happens that Hoover agrees with his views and so pays him well.

    Look, I could do the same trick with Newt Gingrich. He was on Sean Hannity going nuts about the corporate welfare etc. and urging people to visit his website to find out how to fight back (or whatever).

    I am tempted to think Gingrich is more conscious of what he's doing than Sowell, for obvious reasons.

    Anyway, my point is simply that you can always interpret somebody as spouting a view due to bad motives, even if you agree with their stated view. So why not give Sowell a break, and feel pity for him, not anger?

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  4. You know, I was going to hold back on saying this, but since Bob mentioned me and what I was going to say, I'll go ahead. Short version:

    Thomas Sowell on banking : Gene Callahan :: Bob Murphy on global warming : Silas Barta

    I won't get into the merit of the arguments advanced. But Gene, I think the way you see Sowell right now is about the way I saw (and to a large extent still see) Bob after his "C&T is not a market solution" article and the related ones.

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  5. Anonymous11:55 AM

    "Treasury goes out and buys $700 billion of this garbage, seasons it, trades it and allows some to come to maturity, and maybe in the end doesn’t lose anything."

    ... and in the process throw more money at Wall Street as the remaining investment banks become asset managers. As liquidity slowly trickles back into the market, and the housing market firms somewhat, some parts of this distressed MBS debt might actually be dollar-good. And Wall Street, not Main Street, will again benefit.

    In 1933 the Home Owners Loan Corporation was created. Its purpose was to refinance homes to prevent foreclosure. It was used to extend loans from shorter loans to fully amortized, longer term loans (typically 20-25 years). (Wikipedia). There was some talk about reestablishing HOLC for the 21st century before Paulson became a household name - what happened to that initiative?

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  6. I'm not oppossed to "mortgage stamps," or something similar to food stamps to get through the crisis.

    The powers that be can also be satisfied that they've kept the yoke of mortgages on the working class. Win-Win booyah!

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  7. "But in your post, you sound as if you are sure Sowell is consciously writing BS, and I would bet a lot of money that he doesn't think he is. I.e. he actually believes in what he is writing..."

    I'm not saying he's consciously lying --- no, it's false consciousness. He believes this because he gets paid to believe it, because his friends slap him on the back if he believes it, because the people he goes to cocktail parties with believe it, etc.

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