How Democrats Wrecked the Economy and Successfuly Blamed Republicans

The story is laid out in detail in The Great American Bank Robbery by Paul Sperry and The Housing Boom and Bust by Thomas Sowell. Here it is in a nutshell.

Back in the early Clinton years, the big public debate was over Hillary Clinton's controversial plan to overhaul the healthcare system. But the Clintons had another major agenda item that was hardly noticed at the time: to aggressively promote homeownership for racial minorities.

Based on a flawed study by the Boston Fed in 1992 (coauthored by an economist friend of Hillary), the Democrats claimed that minority homeownership rates were being held back by "racist" banking practices. The study found that minorities had a higher rejection rate for home loan applications than the general public. Without providing any direct evidence, the authors simply assumed that the underlying cause must be institutional racism in the banking industry.

Common sense tells us, however, that racist lending practices would backfire and harm no one except the very banks, if any, that engaged in such practices. If some banks were willing to pass up good business opportunities in order to deny loans to minorities, other banks would certainly be more than happy to step in and take the business. And if all white-owned banks were racist, a golden opportunity would exist for wealthy minorities (or non-racist whites) to open banks in under-served areas and do a booming business with little effort. Any wealthy entertainer or athlete, such as Oprah Winfrey, Michael Jordan, or any of hundreds of other wealthy athletes, could easily sponsor such a bank, for example. To believe that racist banks can stop qualified minorities from getting loans in this day and age, one must believe that (1) all white-owned banks are racist, and (2) no wealthy minorities (or non-racist whites) are willing to fill the void and make lots of easy money while providing badly needed services to minority communities.

But the Clintons and many other Democrats apparently believed such economic nonsense. To remedy the alleged racism at banks, they strengthened the "anti-redlining" regulations of the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), which had originally been passed during the Carter years, and they instituted an aggressive campaign that forced lenders to abandon their established underwriting criteria and drastically lower their standards to accommodate minorities who would not otherwise qualify for a home loan.

Key figures in the matter were Attorney General Janet Reno and her Deputy, none other than Eric Holder. They aggressively intimidated banks with threats of prosecution, lawsuits, stiff fines, and regulatory roadblocks to expansion and mergers. They paid little attention to actual lending practices and underwriting criteria, focusing instead on the end results in terms of percentages of minority loans approved. It mattered not whether the lenders were actually discriminating on the basis of race or whether minorities in general simply had worse credit histories (statistics show that they do). It was classic "affirmative action" for home loans.

Reno aggressively prosecuted several banks for "racist" lending practices, and she also encouraged private lawsuits against banks. One such lawsuit was filed against Citibank with back-bench support from a little-known community organizer and civil-rights lawyer named Barack Obama. Other government agencies also embarked on witch-hunts, including the Comptroller of Currency, the President's Fair Housing Council, and the Inter-agency Task Force on Fair Lending, the latter two having been set up by the Clinton administration specifically to harass banks. They even pressured some banks to open offices in dangerous neighborhoods.

With the US Attorney General and several other government agencies pressuring them to give more loans to minorities, banks and other lenders had no choice but to figure out ways to lower their underwriting standards. They drastically reduced or eliminated minimum down payments, increased limits on debt-to-income ratio, and started counting unemployment checks and food stamps as "income"! Then there were the infamous "NINJA" loans (no income, no job, no assets -- no problem). It was financial insanity run amok -- forced on lenders by the authority of the US government.

Not surprisingly, the reckless lending standards created the largest housing bubble in history. The bubble masked the underlying problem for several years. As long as housing prices were appreciating at a sufficient rate, the problem was not apparent and did not seem particularly urgent, certainly not to the general public. The unqualified buyers who got in early enough did reasonably well. As long as their property value had appreciated sufficiently they could always sell at a profit, or refinance, and not face default and foreclosure. But the unqualified buyers who got in later lost their homes and ended up much worse off than they would have been had traditional, uncoerced banking practices been permitted. It was a classic case of the unintended consequences of bad economic policy -- ultimately harming the very minorities it was intended to help.

In 1995, HUD (The Dept. of Housing and Urban Development) authorized Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to purchase mortgage-backed securities that included subprime and other risky CRA home loans. Since Fannie and Freddie are government sponsored enterprises (GSEs), this unprecedented move was widely interpreted by banks and Wall Street as implied government backing of subprime mortgages. Though hardly noticed at the time, this development effectively shifted the liability for loan defaults from lenders to taxpayers. By relieving lenders of financial risk for loan defaults, it strongly encouraged them to give more loans to unqualified applicants. As if all that weren't bad enough, it also started the whole secondary market for subprime mortgages, which ended with the massive failures and subsequent bailouts of financial giants such as AIG and Citigroup. Had Clinton not started this bogus "investment" policy back in 1995, the massive TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) bailouts in 2008 would have been completely unnecessary.

The housing bubble continued for many years, but record-high oil prices in 2008 caused it to finally burst, creating a crisis for the entire financial system. Since the Republicans had the White House at that time, the Democrats and the "mainstream" media were able to pin the brunt of the political blame on them. The general public was hardly aware of the historical roots of the problem, and the party in the White House was assumed to be responsible, as usual. The general public tends to naively assume that the President has full control of the economy and is completely unencumbered by existing laws, regulations, and policies that were in place before they were elected. In the case of the subprime mortgage crisis, that was a very bad assumption.

The Republicans were not completely innocent in the matter, but they were certainly not the driving force behind the subprime mortgage meltdown and the subsequent financial crisis. President Bush promoted legitimate homeownership, but he also caved to the Democrats' racial demagoguery and "went along" with their program to some extent. However, when Bush and the Republican Congress tried to actually head off the subprime mortgage crisis before it was too late, the Democrats opposed them fiercely.

When the Republicans attempted to rein in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in 2005, for example, the Democrats called them racists, as usual, and thwarted their efforts by filibustering with only 45 votes in the Senate. (A filibuster allows the minority party to block legislation in the US Senate with only 40 of 100 votes.) Hence, the Democrats prevailed even though the Republicans had the Presidency and controlled both house of Congress. But the general public simply assumes that the party in power must be responsible, and the Democrats managed to perpetrate the blatant lie that Republican opposition to stronger regulation was at the root of the problem.

Democratic Congressman Barney Frank and Democratic Senator Chris Dodd, along with nearly all other Democrats in Congress, opposed the Republicans initiatives to reform Fannie and Freddie, insisting repeatedly that those government sponsored enterprises were in sound financial condition and functioning as intended. Many Democrats claimed that Republicans simply wanted to suppress minority homeownership. It's all on record, both written and video. Dodd and Frank later became the primary architects of the massive Dodd-Frank banking reform Act that was signed into law by Obama. Yeah, those are the two guys who should be rewriting banking regulations! (Not surprisingly, their reform bill does nothing to reform Fannie and Freddie.)

Leftists talk about "greedy" banks and "predatory" lending practices, but it was the Democrats who had actually forced banks against their will to recklessly provide home loans to unqualified applicants, many of whom later lost their homes to foreclosure. Before the housing bubble burst, Bill Clinton's website proudly touted his accomplishments in promoting minority homeownership. After the bubble burst, that material was scrubbed and replaced with material blaming Republicans and banks for the financial crisis and the ensuing major recession. As a community organizer, Barack Obama was involved in suing banks to force them to give risky loans to unqualified minorities. Later, as a US Senator, he joined in the Democrats' filibuster of the Republican attempts to reform the subprime mortgage industry. Yet he has the gall to routinely claim with a straight face that Republicans "drove the economy into a ditch." That sort of mendacity is perhaps to be expected from politicians, but we certainly don't have to fall for it.

The bottom line is that Democrats were the primary architects and the driving force behind the irresponsible banking practices that led to the subprime mortgage meltdown, the financial crisis, and the recession that resulted. But they managed to successfully pin the public blame on Republicans, and Barack Obama was elected as a result. If the Democrats are not finally held accountable in the next election, they will continue to wreck the US economy until it is unrecognizable as a free market, and the days of American prosperity will be over.

January 2012

RussP.us