I missed this on my way out of town, but I wanted to steer people to this article by Joe Nocera of the New York Times.
He writes about the workings of an ideologically-driven campaign to lay the entire financial crisis at the feet of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-sponsored entities charged with boosting mortgage lending. Yes, mistakes and miscalculations were made by these GSEs and we certainly should be asking what we can do differently, but in my opinion Nocera’s diagnosis is spot on. The subprime mortgage market had already exploded before Fannie and Freddie began purchasing these loans in earnest. In fact, they were actually late to the game. Once on the field, they began buying up these loans not to promote low- and moderate –income homeownership but to chase market share. They exacerbated the problem but hardly caused it. They should have stayed on the sidelines.
It was the drive for market share—and not the requirement to meet affordable housing mandates—that moved Fannie and Freddie into the already exploding subprime market. Nocera paints the picture of a textbook operation to muddy the waters of understanding, with staring roles played by the Wall Street Journal editorial page and the American Enterprise Institute. He calls it “The Big Lie” and it depends on an echo chamber to advance the thesis that government rather than actors in the financial sector are to blame for the advent of the financial crisis and its aftermath.
What to do about Fannie and Freddie remains an open question. The Obama administration has sketched out a set of potential options but (for some reason) doesn’t believe they can advance a reasonable, bipartisan discussion on the Hill. That’s too bad because there are important issues to address, such as how to help aspiring families become responsible homeowners in the future get out from under the debilitating debt of mortgages that exceed the value of thier homes. I wholeheartedly agree with Nocera’s conclusion:
Three years after the financial crisis, the country would be well served by a real debate about the role of government in housing. Should the government be helping low- and moderate-income Americans own their own homes? If so, is there an acceptable level of risk? If not, how do we recast the American dream?
To have that debate, though, we need a clear understanding of what role the government’s affordable-housing goals did — and did not — play in the crisis. And that is impossible as long as the Big Lie holds sway.