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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Making Fannie and Freddie Pay for Their Free Lunch

Joseph Stiglitz says just say no to free lunches:

Fannie’s and Freddie’s free lunch, by Joseph Stiglitz, Commentary, Financial Times: ...The US government is about to embark on ... a partnership, in which the private sector takes the profits and the public sector bears the risk. The proposed bail-out of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac entails the socialisation of risk – with all the long-term adverse implications for moral hazard – from an administration supposedly committed to free-market principles.

Defenders of the bail-out argue that these institutions are too big to be allowed to fail. If that is the case, the government had a responsibility to regulate them so that they would not fail. No insurance company would provide fire insurance without demanding adequate sprinklers; none would leave it to “self-regulation”. But that is what we have done with the financial system.

Even if they are too big to fail, they are not too big to be reorganised ...[to] meet the basic tenets of what should constitute such a publicly sponsored scheme.

First, it should be fully transparent, with taxpayers knowing the risks they have assumed...

Second, there should be full accountability. Those who are responsible for the mistakes – management, shareholders and bondholders – should all bear the consequences. Taxpayers should not be asked to pony up a penny while shareholders are being protected.

Finally, taxpayers should be compensated for the risks they face. ...

All of these principles were violated in the Bear Stearns bail-out. ... The same administration that failed to regulate, then seemed enthusiastic about the Bear Stearns bail-out, is now asking the American people to write a blank cheque. They say: “Trust us.” Yes, we can trust the administration – to give the taxpayers another raw deal.

Something has to be done; on that everyone is agreed. We should begin with the core of the problem, the fact that millions of Americans were made loans beyond their ability to pay. We need to help them stay in their homes.... This will bring clarity to the capital markets – reducing uncertainty about the size of the hole in Fannie Mae’s and Freddie Mac’s balance sheets. ...

We should not be worried about shareholders losing their investments. In earlier years, they were amply rewarded. The management remuneration packages that they approved were designed to encourage excessive risk-taking. They got what they asked for. Nor should we be worried about creditors losing their money. Their lack of supervision fuelled the housing bubble and we are now all paying the price. We should worry about whether there is a supply of liquidity to the housing market, so that those who wish to buy a home can get a loan. This proposal provides the necessary liquidity.

A basic law of economics holds that there is no such thing as a free lunch. Those in the financial market have had a sumptuous feast and the administration is now asking the taxpayer to pick up a part of the tab. We should simply say No. [...much more here...]

    Posted by on Thursday, July 24, 2008 at 01:53 PM in Economics, Financial System, Housing, Regulation | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (24)

          

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