Links On the Big Lie About the Housing Crisis

The Big Lie Goes Viral by Barry Ritzholtz

One group has been especially vocal about shaping a new narrative of the credit crisis and economic collapse: those whose bad judgment and failed philosophy helped cause the crisis.

Rather than admit the error of their ways — Repent! — these people are engaged in an active campaign to rewrite history. They are not, of course, exonerated in doing so. And beyond that, they damage the process of repairing what was broken. They muddy the waters when it comes to holding guilty parties responsible. They prevent measures from being put into place to prevent another crisis.

Here is the surprising takeaway: They are winning. Thanks to the endless repetition of the Big Lie.

A Big Lie is so colossal that no one would believe that someone could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. There are many examples: Claims that Earth is not warming, or that evolution is not the best thesis we have for how humans developed. Those opposed to stimulus spending have gone so far as to claim that the infrastructure of the United States is just fine, Grade A (not D, as the we discussed last month), and needs little repair.

Wall Street has its own version: Its Big Lie is that banks and investment houses are merely victims of the crash. You see, the entire boom and bust was caused by misguided government policies. It was not irresponsible lending or derivative or excess leverage or misguided compensation packages, but rather long-standing housing policies that were at fault.

Indeed, the arguments these folks make fail to withstand even casual scrutiny. But that has not stopped people who should know better from repeating them.

Bloomberg’s Awful Comment by Mike Konczal

My sense is that these are people who can’t accept that some markets, especially financial ones, are disasters when completely unregulated – and thus find any far-fetched excuse to blame the government.  But since we are going to hear a lot of it in 2012, how should one respond to the line that Congress and Fannie/Freddie caused the housing crisis?

1. The first thing to point out is that the both the subprime mortgage boom and the subsequent crash are very much concentrated in the private market, especially the private label securitization channel (PLS) market.  The GSEs were not behind them.  That whole fly-by-night lending boom, slicing and dicing mortgage bonds, derivatives and CDOs, and all the other shadiness of the 2000s mortgage market was a Wall Street creation, and that is what drove all those risky mortgages.

2.The next thing to mention is that the “affordability goals” of the GSEs, as well as the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), didn’t cause the problems.

3.  This is not exactly an obscure corner of the wonk world – it is one of the most studied capital markets in the world.  What has other research found on this matter?  From Min:

Did Fannie and Freddie buy high-risk mortgage-backed securities? Yes. But they did not buy enough of them to be blamed for the mortgage crisis

4.  For fun, we should mention that the conservative think tanks spent the 2000s saying the exact opposite of what they are saying now, and the opposite of what Bloomberg said above.  They argued that the CRA and the GSEs were getting in the way of getting risky subprime mortgages to risky subprime borrowers.

5.  There’s an argument that the GSEs had huge subprime exposure if you create a new category that supposedly represents the risks of subprime more accurately.  This new “high-risk” category is associated with a consultant to AEI named Ed Pinto, and his analysis deliberately blurs the wording on “high-risk” and subprime in much of his writings.

6. The three Republicans on the FCIC panel rejected the “Blame the GSEs/Congress” approach in their minority report.  Indeed, they, and most conservatives who know this is a dead-end, tend to do a “it’s a whole lot of things, hoocoodanode?” approach.


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