Uncle Sam goes "all in"
And so, they have finally done it. Washington has finally bet every dollar of earnings and wealth you and I and every other taxpayer has ever made in our entire lives; every dollar that will ever be made by our children's generation; and every dollar that will ever be made by our grandchildren's generation; in an attempt -- that is by no means guaranteed to succeed -- to prop up reckless and malign investments by Wall Street.
From the New York Times:
[A]s the Fed chairman, Ben S. Bernanke, laid out the potentially devastating ramifications of the financial crisis before congressional leaders on Thursday night, there was a stunned silence at first.
Senator Christopher J. Dodd [said] the congressional leaders were told “that we’re literally maybe days away from a complete meltdown of our financial system, with all the implications here at home and globally.
Pray tell, exactly why did Congressional leaders sit in "stunned silence" on September 18, 2008 as it was explained to them that the collective unpayable $ TRILLIONS of debt of millions of ridiculous mortgages for houses and condos bought at unsustainable values, debt that was packaged and sold and then borrowed against at rates of 30 or 40 to 1 by a shadow banking system that they and the Administration birthed and nurtured, debt that had been booked as ficitious profits by that system, debt that in the real world represented money that was never ever going to be paid back, was in danger of bringing down the entire financial system?
This crisis was not just foreseeable, it was not just foreseen, it was shouted about from the rooftops since 2004, on blogs like Ben Jones' housing bubble blog, by Calculated Risk, by Mike Shedlock, by Russ Winter, by Barry Ritholtz, by Robert Reich, by Paul Krugman, by Joseph Stiglitz, by James Kunstler, by Stirling Newberry -- in short by just about every housing or economic blogger right, center, and left, from bonddad at Daily Kos to blackhedd on Red State, not to mention myself.
And yet two nights ago, Pelosi, Schumer, Frank, Reid, and everybody else in the Capital sat in "stunned silence" as Bernanke and Paulson spelled out the situation for them. Where were they all these years? Protected from the noise of the Dirty Unwashed Hippies beyond the beltway, by their cocktail party neoliberal free market cone of silence in Washington, that's where.
And so, panic-stricken, they will hurriedly and without reading carefully enact into law what will undoubtedly be the "Economic Patriot Act" of the Bush Administration, with all of the corruption and hidden destruction of rights that conveys, an act that has been estimated at costing up to $1,000,000,000,000 (that's $1 TRILLION) of taxpayer moneys. And still may not succeed.
Oh, sure, we can blog. We can gripe. We can make phone calls and write letters. But if the bipartisan Washington economic elite was immunized by their Cone of Silence to the years of outcry -- outcry that was 100% correct -- from the Dirty Unwashed Hippies about the reckless credit binge; exactly as they were from the 100% outcry about the War in Iraq; what on earth makes anybody think they will listen now?
Below is an opinion piece that was published last year on the financial blog site Minyanville. I have cited it before. It is particularly appropriate reading now:
As a result of my values and life experiences, I chose conservative personal finances. Due to my preference for security and prudence, I forgo the opportunity for larger gains and windfalls in exchange for the lower risk and security. It used to be that I could live with this trade-off. However, the last decade (and last few years in particular) have made this choice increasingly difficult. Not only have risky investments been deliberately supported by government policy, but less risky paths have been infected by overspill from the risk-taking activities; worse yet, my very own government is treating me as a sucker. I mean openly, which is kind of new.
The increasing role of federal intervention in stimulating certain segments of the economy and bailing out risk-takers has made it increasingly clear that the choice to be a conservative investor was not only foolish, but is being deliberately singled out for punishment by our own government. The flogging of the prudent investor has moved from sublime to ridiculous, as government officials blatantly enter a mode of panicked bailout of preferred gamblers and spreading misinformation about the situation.
Not to be too dramatic, but I am left wondering how to explain this to my children. I was ready to explain risky versus conservative financial preferences. As some of my friends and neighbors seemed to prosper without end in reward for their doubling-down of high personal leverage and asset concentration, I began to wonder how to explain to my children why their dad was such a, well, loser. I kept telling myself that the once-a-generation correction (the same one that stung my grandparents in the 1930s, and my parents in the 1970s) would eventually validate my own choices as a reasonable personal strategy. Now I wonder.
The net effect of these bailout activities is to reward the people who took wild risk and ignored generations of wisdom about debt and gambling. It leaves me trying to explain why I chose a higher-rate fixed mortgage and a modest house and modest consumer debt, with a higher proportion of my investment in low yield supposedly "safe" mutual funds. I am left now, perhaps always on the sidelines, too late to enjoy those low rate ARMs and to jump on the leveraged house purchase bandwagon, watching as my government actively turns the knife in my back.
Dramatic? Perhaps. But I would argue that we are witnessing a very dramatic episode in US economic history. The "end of consequences" and the era of overt elite market socialism? I don’t know yet what I will tell my kids. Something along the lines of: go ahead and be reckless; someone will save your butt – so long as that butt is aligned with the chosen elite butts.
“Never bet against the house”. I get that now.
Get a good education, work hard, and follow the rules, and you will be rewarded with a slice of the American Dream. Isn't that all the middle class ever asked for?
I get it now. We are suckers. We are chumps.