Tags: Melloan | Fannie | Freddie | banks

US Has 'Effectively Nationalized' Home Mortgage Industry

Thursday, 14 Mar 2013 12:00 PM

By Glenn J. Kalinoski

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The home mortgage sector in the world’s largest economy has been “effectively nationalized,” says George Melloan, former deputy editor of the editorial page for The Wall Street Journal.

Government agencies — primarily Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, but also the Federal Housing Administration — insured or purchased more than 90 percent of home mortgages originated in 2012, a $1.3 trillion business, compared with 30 percent in 2006, according to ProPublica data.

Melloan, author of “The Great Money Binge: Spending Our Way to Socialism,” traced the situation back to the end of the last century, citing government and “powerful” lobbies.

Editor's Note: The Truth About the Economy — Government Documents Lead to Eerie Conclusion

“When President [Bill] Clinton forced the banks to begin their subprime mortgage binge in the 1990s, he called it ‘affordable housing’ for people with limited means, a politically appealing idea,” Melloan wrote in an opinion article for The Journal.

“But the real muscle came from well-heeled lobbies — the builders, real estate agents, bankers and construction-worker unions.”

Fannie and Freddie reported earnings last year after costing taxpayers more than $180 billion over the previous three years. But the turnaround is “not entirely” good news, he noted.

“[It] makes it more likely that their present limbo status as effectively nationalized banks — originally intended as temporary — will be prolonged,” Melloan explained.

“There are still lots of private banks and mortgage companies generating and servicing mortgages, so the government doesn’t ‘own’ the whole industry. But the government (or the lucky half of the population who pay income taxes) now owns most of the risks,” he added.

“The moral is that government backing — implicit during the heyday of Fannie and Freddie and explicit today — leads to sloppy banking and ultimately to defaults,” Melloan wrote in The Journal. “Taxpayers, with little knowledge of the commitments made on their behalf, become responsible for the losses.”

In addition, student loans, which were taken over by the government in 2010, represent “another trillion dollar business,” with delinquencies “rising rapidly.”

“Some observers ask whether these will cause America's next ‘subprime’ crisis,” he noted.

Melloan added that taxpayers are also “on the hook for failed banks” because of the exposure provided by the Financial Stability Oversight Council, which was created in 2010 by the Dodd-Frank Act.

“This council is commissioned to ‘resolve’ the nation’s ‘too-big-to-fail’ banks when they fail, most likely with taxpayer money if the 2008 precedent is any guide,” wrote Melloan.

“Thanks to developments over the last four years, the government is now insuring a large chunk of America's nearly $16 trillion economy — while being essentially bankrupt, having run budget deficits exceeding $1 trillion for the last four years,” he wrote. “The future insurance and entitlement obligations are, of course, off the books.”

Last month, the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington-based think tank, called for scaling back the government role in the nation’s housing finance system and reforming housing assistance programs to better meet the needs of America’s most vulnerable households.

The Center proposed a new housing finance system that calls for a far greater role for the private sector, a continued but limited role for the federal government, the elimination of Fannie and Freddie and reform of the Federal Housing Administration to improve efficiency and avoid crowd-out of private capital.

Those firms and private insurers would bear the risks of default, except in extreme cases when they are unable to absorb further losses, in which case a “public guarantor” funded by premium payments would provide a backstop.

Editor's Note: The Truth About the Economy — Government Documents Lead to Eerie Conclusion

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