State & National Elections is now State & National Politics. Please subscribe, read, and follow!
If link doesn't work: http://statenationalpolitics.blogspot.com/

A government big enough to give you everything you want, is strong enough to take everything you have! - Thomas Jefferson

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Bob Barr Says Privatize Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, End Government Subsidies

The latest financial crisis involving Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which guarantee home mortgages, demonstrates yet again how government intervention in private markets almost always comes to grief. Both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are nominally private, but were created by Congress and enjoy significant advantages over truly private companies, including cheaper borrowing, lower capital requirements, and an implicit federal guarantee.

As a result, the two organizations behaved irresponsibly, confident that they were “too big to fail.” They own $5.1 trillion in mortgage debt, almost half of the nation’s total. With the sub-prime lending crisis in full swing, their losses are up, their capital is down, and their ability to borrow is falling. Immediate privatization is difficult because the markets doubt the organizations can survive without government support. Insolvency and a forced asset sale would roil both the housing and financial markets.

These problems are almost entirely the fault of the federal government. Congress created programs to artificially inflate the housing market, established Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to be exempt from normal scrutiny, oversight, and competition, and expanded their activities in response to the sub-prime lending meltdown. Government must get out of the mortgage business, but must do so in a way that least harms taxpayers and the economy.

In the short-term, government has little choice but to provide an explicit but limited loan guarantee, thereby capping the public’s liability, now widely assumed to be without limit. At the same time, Congress must restrict the number and size of loans by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and set more substantial capital requirements, while authorizing greater Federal Reserve oversight of their operations. The organizations must begin downsizing their portfolios, reducing their risks, and reestablishing their financial credibility.

However, the ultimate objective must be full privatization—with both organizations turned into private companies, responsible for their loan portfolios, and with access to government guarantees or other forms of support. Government should not be in the business of creating multi-billion dollar enterprises to manipulate markets for the benefit of one group or another—in this case, in order to shave the interest rates for selected home buyers by a quarter or half percent.

Finally, we must learn the lesson that government subsidy programs almost always end up running out of control, causing financial disaster for taxpayers. A Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac collapse could cost most than $1 trillion. The U.S. already has a $14 trillion national debt. Far worse, the unfunded liabilities of Social Security and Medicare top $100 trillion. American taxpayers cannot afford additional special interest subsidies and bail-outs.

Moreover, the entire economy suffers from the sort of market manipulation practiced by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, as well as the multitude of direct housing subsidy programs. Indeed, the impact of the sub-prime lending crisis has gone far beyond the housing market. The largely unaccountable Federal Reserve has made many of these problems worse, by extending further bail-outs and creating additional taxpayer liabilities. Congress must limit the Fed’s activities as well, and force it to act with greater transparency and oversight.

No comments: