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tv   After Words  CSPAN  March 29, 2015 9:00pm-10:01pm EDT

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>> "hidden in plain sight: what really caused the world's worst financial crisis and why it could happen again" in the book he argues that government housing policies caused the 2008 financial disruption. >> peter wallison your is
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>> caller: "hidden in plain sight: what really caused the world's worst financial crisis and why it could happen again" you are a member of the financial crisis inquiry commission that was investigating the cause of the '07-'08 crisis. what did you see that the republican and democratics didn't see? >> i was looking at the housing situation and fanny may and freddy mack for a while before getting on the commission so i had a background on what happened in the housing sector. i was looking for the commissioner to look into what happened with fanny mae and fredie mack and their role. i found the commissioner was interesting in that and wouldn't look at it. to the degree i tried to
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interest them i was told i was given all kinds of signals that wasn't something i would do. with the other republicans, my view was that our responsibility on the commission was to make sure that the american people understood what happened in the crisis. that i was outside, i thought of the partisan differences between the republicans and the democrats. i am afraid the republicans felt that they just would not agree with anything the democrats did. they didn't want to indict the bush administration. some had been in the bush administration. i felt i had to speak with an independent voice. >> you wrote a lengthy descent for the commission in the late stages of that inquiry that gruew
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into your book. this is focused on the housing and mortgage markets in the united states and the goment's role in it. when and why did the u.s. government get so involved in the housing market? >> it began in the new deal back in the '30s when the government attempted to assist banks in making loans guy guaranteeing and insuring them. and fannie mae was established to provide acquitty to banks. when they made a mortgage they could sell it get liquidity and make more mortgages. so it was helpful in inducing more home sales into the united states. thought was the beginning. the government got much more involved in the '0s when they started adjusting the fha's -- the federal housing
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administration's standards enorder to improve housing in the united states or increase the amount of housing sold in the united states in a desire to help the economy. that is when we sort sof got off the rails because once the government started using housing as a way to improve the economy and in other words to improve the american people's view of their government and how successful it is then it became a political issue instead of what it had been before which was simply a question of making sure that the market functioned well. >> this stretches across democratic and republican administrations. the interest in housing and encouraging housing activity. where do you see the more recent turning peptase in this development? -- points -- >> i think the key turning point from my perspective was 19d 92 when congress adopted something
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called the affordable housing gels goals. they were under precssure to make sure people had the option of getting a loan and congress adopted the affordable housing goal that required after frannie and freddy and required them when they bought loans to make sure of the mortgages they bought 30% had been made to people at or below the median income. the authority to require a certain quota was given to the department of housing and urban development at that point and over time between 19d 92-2008
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they gradually ratched up the requirements and added new ones -- so that by 2011 it was up to 50% and pie 2008 it was 50%. this wasn't a partisan thing. it was done under clinton but under bush it was carried through by hud. and >> it was designed to encourage americans to save money and make sure lower and middle income people can have a home or asset of this kind. is there something wrong with this idea in general? that people should be able to buy a home and find a home in america? >> absolutely nothing wrong with that. there are lots of good reasons
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why homeownership should be in encouraged. but they loured a number of people into buying homes who could not sustain the mortgages over time. in fact by the year 2008 and this is really an important date in the book, by the year 2008 more than half of the mortgages in the united states were subprime mortgages. about 31 million subprime or weak mortgages by 2008 and of those 76% were on the books of government agencies which to me shows clearly that it was the government that created the demand for these mortgages. when underwriting standards decline it isn't simply the people who bought homes are unable to carry them but what happens when the mortgages fail
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they affect all of the people around them; all of the nasholds, the values of homes in all of those neighborhoods go down. what the american people should understand after the financial crisis and which i don't think they really understand today is that they are all hurt when underwriting standards are reduced so that other people who can't necessarily sustain the standards don't have the proper credit relationships don't have the downpayments payments are unable to keep their mortgage. >> we have the existence of fannie and what they did and the other was the push to encourage more ownership and when combined, fanne and freddy were theres the vehicle to do all of this. what happened then in fannee and freddy and their existence with
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lawmakers that led to where we got into the crisis. >> it is really quite interesting because the person who ultimately became the president of they would have a strong backing in congress if they supported the low income housing. and they would stay in the position where they were getting support tr the government and making a lot of money. both of those institutions. >> and fannie mae and freddie
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mac even though started by the government they became private entities. >> in 1968 they were privatized and in 1970s they were able to enter the conventional market where they could begin to by rellar mortgages. that made them very important profit making institutions. >> and they became publically traded companies >> that is right. they were some of the largest institutions in the united states until 2008. the political ships became very important because as they grew and got bigger the dangers were the government would move against thepm, regulate them and there was a push in the bush administration for regulation of
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fannie mae and freddie mac. and from their point of view especially fannie mae that was more political to avoid more regulation they had to rely on the democrats in congress. they were very focused on making sure that fannie mae and fred supported low income housing. so even though they were beginning in the 2000s buying mortgages that would cause them to suffer losses they could not go to congress or hud and say we will not comply with quotas any more because it is driving us out of business and we will fail. they could not do that because the democrats would no longer support them and the effort of the bush administration to put them under greater regulation in 2003-2005 would have been successful and they would not
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have been so profitable. so they were caught in a vice on the one hand of having to keep the democrats on their sides and on the other hand having to comply with the affordable housing requirements that were going to drive them to in saul solvency. >> the role of fannie mae and freddie mac have a lot of talk circulating circulating. if you look at the clinton administration people say they tried to deal with fannie mae and freddie mac and saw it getting out of control and they could not do anything about it because they could not get the support. the bush administration even though people wanted to push fannie mae and freddie mac in a certain direction was pushing their home ownership goals that conflicted with other pieces of the administration that was
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moving in this direction. and there is culpability pushing for it. and republicans have another view of putting the blame on democrats there. is there any particular moment in the fannie mae-freddie mac relationship witheter the whitehouse or congress where it truly got out of hand or was this a slow development over 15-20 years? >> i see it as a slow development. i think from fannie mae and freddie mac point of view it was out of hand quickly. if they recognized what they were doing and i think many of them within those organizations must have realized it because up until 1992 they wouldome make prime loans. they were famous for only making prime loans and after the affordable housing requirements were put in place and they had to buy loans from people below
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the median income 50% or 56% of those loans had to be to people whose credit relationships were not particular good they began to reduce their underwriting standards and realized they were taking huge risks in doing so. by 1995 for example they were accepting mortgages with 3% down payments and by 2000 they were accepting mortgages with no down payment at all. i actually don't blame fannie mae and freddie mac so much mt book as i blame hud. fannie mae and freddie mac were implements. they were tools in the hands of congress and the administration both the clinton and the bush administration and it was hud that was -- the department of housing --
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>> which is a cabinet agency. >> housing development was bringing through the mandate and being tough because there was a lot of very good political use in there for the administration to say we have serving. and in the case of the bush administration, yes, he wanted. bush was favorable to the idea of home ownership. and in his memoirs bush said he was delighted with low income people able to buy homes and the home ownership was rising but i didn't realize the risk we were undertaking at the same time. he kind of apologized in that way for what his administration did and i think that was the right way to do it. they did not realize the risk they were introducing into the housing system and ultimately
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into the entire financial system by forcing fannie mae and freddie mac to buy mortgages that were not well grounded. >> a couple areas of dispute about the housing crisis and one is regulation. should there be more or less? you are arguing it was the regulation itself that led to this. what if there were a different kind of regulations? there were some kind of push on home ownership but not with weak underwriting standards they saw. and stories throughout the housing boom about no income, job or assets and anybody could get a loan. what do you think might have happened if there were standards around that? that is part of what came into this financial crisis inquiry
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was if the government set standards we would not have gotten to this point. do you think that would have made a difference? >> yes, if the government set underwriting requirements that would be helpful. at the base of the problems was the government allowed underwriting standards to decline because of other political interest that they had. so yes, the government could have done this a number of different ways assuring they were maintained but insuring they got down payments to help them become home own orers. but we have to think about if homeownership is the best thing it has been cracked up to do.
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i think there are a lot of benefits of homeownership. people cut the grass and keep the place in good shape and you know it is like no body every washes a rented car. there is very good reasons to maintain hour housing talk through ownership. ownership has not been over time as good as an investment as the stock market. i think the numbers are about 1-2 percent growth in homeownership whereas ppwhereasthe -- where whereas the stock market is about 7%. it definitely goes overboard in the hope of supporting particular particular running mates. >> and another area of dispute is whether the crisis was built
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by the public sector actions like what we saw with the government housing policy or private sector activities. there were a lot of forces coming into shape in the private sector and the housing market in creating mortgage securities. tell us about what is happening in the private market and we will connect that to the public market. >> 76% of the weak mortgages were on the books and 24% on someone else's books and that was the private sector. the trouble with what the narrative has been about the financial crisis is it focused on the private sector and wall street of course. and i have been accused of backing wall street or favoring wall street. not at all. what i am trying to do is point out where the real liability or
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responsibility for what happened in the financial crisis occurred and that was with the government's policy. wall street have a very important -- or the private sector had a 24% or important role in this. the trouble with putting all of the blame on wall street and the private sector is that in many ways they were loured into position they were in by the fact that fannie mae and freddie mac were saying to them we need these mortgages. we are not going to be too concerned about who the bar barrowers were and whether they had a down payment or not. we have to meet a quota. so wall street and others coaptry wide a california company, became powerful because they were able to assemble these
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sub-prime mortgages, put them in pools, and sell them to fannie mae and freddie mac and fannie mae and freddie mac got credit on the affordable housing goals for buying security backed by the eligible mortgages. so a lot of what the private sector did was to feed mortgages through mortgage backed securities to fannie mae and freddie mac. and during the mid 2000s fannie mae and freddie mac were the biggest buyers of mortgage backed securities. but then housing prices continued to rise people began to look at housing as a good investment, maybe one of the best investments, so the wall street banks and others kept many of the mortgage-backed securities they created.
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many were sold to fannie mae and freddie mac but they kept the rest. they all believed they were good matches. even though by the late 2000s they were beginning to see fannie mae and freddie mac were on their way to solvency. >> court interest rates at the time were at record lows coming out of the 2001 recession with
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lowered interest rates and investors were not able to get the same kind of return they getedget expected. they were looking for ways to draw higher interest rates. that was a cause of the security generation and mortgage security generatored by private firms. take us through that end of the private sector. there was a demand globally called the global savings glut of this. federal reserve officials point to this a lot. there was a lot going around looking to generate return. it created a demand for the private securities. ge maybe so. i take that on with others n book. the question of why we had this
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bubble in housing prices is one i looked at. and others took this as people looking for a place to invest. you see it clearly in the data. but by 2003 which is the time the feds monetary policy was such they were negative on a real bases by that time we had a double post war. the idea money was sloshing around. you were not able to see that in longer term rates.
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in the ten year node or 30 year pond. you didn't see huge declines in the interest rates on those instruments which you would see if there was a lot of demand for them. so i am unsure about that idea too. i continue to believe that the housing bubble was caused by all kinds of new buying coming into the the market with government credit through fannie mae and freddie mac. at least i look at it not being an economist but a moment where there was a famous economist that said these bubbles occur when there are strange events in the economy that had not occurred before. some major changes in the relationships in the economy. i think this was exactly one of those cases where all of a sudden a whole lot of people who had not been able to buy homes
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before were able to come in and begin to buy homes. and that started the bubble growing in 1997 and it continued to grow for ten years until it topped out in 2007. so that was a very important thing and i think it came from u.s. government housing policy and not from anything else. >> as you know quite a few views about what created the housing crisis and a couple more i want to run through. and you do address these in the book. one is the global issue. why did so many other countries also have housing bubbles? they were not just following u.s. housing policy. we had housing bubbles in spain, uk, australia, canada, many had banking crisis in recent years. they didn't have fannie mae or freddie mac but what happened in those countries verses what
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happened in the united states? >> that is one of the major criticisms and it is easy to address because it has been looked at by a number of people. one by a study by professor at berk berk berkeley. he said they had bubbles there. but when their bubbles collapsed the most -- the country with the greatest losses at that point were in the uk and they had a loss of about 3%. in the united states fannie mae and freddie mac which had of all of the players, had the fewest bad mortgages, they had many, but not the worst of the worst, their losses were between 13-17 percent.
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and for other firms banks and so forth holding the bad mortgages their losses were up to 35-40 percent. the fact is then in the united states the bubble was filled with or diffuseed with subprime and other weak mortgages whereas in other countries the losses were at most 3% meaning their financial crisis were not the result of lossess in the housing system. the united states government was promoting the acquisition of subprime and other weak loans and other countries didn't do that. they continued to insist all along even while the bubbles were growing they toned to insist on prime mortgages. so when their bubbles collapsed there were not so many losses in
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the housing system. >> subprime loan is a term most are familiar with. you tried to develop a broader measure with non-traditional mortgages and you have tables trying to tally the broader measures here which is certainly different from what others have done. walk us through why you decided to do those calculations, where those figures came from and when you came upon them and what your conclusion was. >> i used to term non-traditional mortgages because it was easier to mtm rather than talking about a sub-prime mortgage and an altlifealt-a mortgage. a sub-prime mortgage is simple because it was defined in 2001 and they said any mortgage made to a person who has a credit score of 660 i think, it is
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called a fico score, but if your score is 660 or less that is a subprime mortgage no matter what you might say about the house. what kind of house how big the down payment was and so forth. it is sub-prime if below 660. if if data shows that is much more laky to fail. there is an alt-a mortgage and that phrase came from the fact that agencies which were fannie mae and freddie mac, called in the market agencies would not except mortgages that had low down payments below 10% for example, were not mortgages that paid or only required interest
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payments. they didn't decline in the -- they didn't make principal payments as part of the mortgages. they would not accept those mortgages before 1992. it was only after 1992 they began to accept those mortgages. so i lumped them both together and the fcic did the same thing calling them non traditional mortgages because the traditional mortgage into the united states was a prime-mortgage. and in normal times the trudigal mortgage that is the prime mortgage, had a default rate of less than 1%. when we gave up on prime mortgages and began to accept mortgages that were all day or sub-prime, non-traditional mortgages, that is where we went wrong. and why we really put our financial system in a serious
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position where as soon as we started having a lot of default we began to weaken our entire financial system and had a financial crisis. >> you say in the book you are trying to go and provide a broader view than what members of the commission were able to see than some of the information that was out at the time. what do you know now that wasn't known then or public then? >> it is really interesting. one of the reasons i wrote the book is that i found in going through a lot of the data that the commission had accumulated a lot of material that supported the position that i took when i descented originally and i was quite upset this information was never made available to the commissioners. i should have seen this and i would have said doesn't this support my position. i will not say this is
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suppressed but they collected information they didn't use and a lot of the information was data that supported by position. there is for example, in the book a table that i had disclosed by fannie mae or freddie mac -- well fannie in this case, it showed how sub-prime mortgages met their affordable housing requirements over time starting in about 1996 until 2004-2005 showed the increase in subprime mortgages. it showed they met the requirements under the affordable housing goals or loans to people below the median income in each case. as the goals went up so did the purchase of sub-prime mortgages.
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that one table made my case to the entire fcic but it was never disclosed to me or any other commissioners. >> let's go to the financial crisis. we think of the financial crisis we think of bear sterns leman brothers, investment banks, aig a big insurance company, and we don't necessarily think about country wide as much even though there was quite a bit of attention on country wide in the lead' up to the crisis. tell us about how the housing piece collided with everything else so we get to a point where an insurance company is being bailed out. >> this is a story of increasing significant government blunders i am afraid.
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i have to blame the people in office at the time and then to some extent even into the obama administration but there was the thought apparently in looking at the memoir of the secretary of treasury at the time there was the fault if the large financial institution failed it would drag down others. and in 2008 2007 and into 2008 is that as these mortgages began to fail financial institutions holding mortgages had to write down their assets and when you do that, your capital declines and there was uncertainty about doing enough writing down and whether they were insolvent.
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and as we approached the first few months of 2008 one institution in particular did a lot of investing in the housing business, bear sterns which was an investment bank and still is looked like it was going to fail and the government stepped in and provided about $29 in risk sharing funds provided by the fed to jp morgan chase, a very large bank that bought bear sterns and saved and rescued their shareholders who got pay out of $10 a share. okay. this was a really unusual thing because the government had never before actually stepped in with cash and rescued an institution that was not an insured bank. so by then the market thought
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well we have a policy by the government. they were not going to allow any of the large financial institutions to fail and then we came to leiman brothers and were 50 percent larger and everyone expected the government would save them but it didn't. it allowed them to fail. that was a huge mistake. i think it was a mistake to rescue bear sterns because that created moral hazard. that is people assume it knows what the government is going to do and the government protects them for different decisions. they then allowed the brothers to fail. shocking everyone in the market. people didn't know who was going to fail, who wasn't people started withdrawing from banks and other institutions and the
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credit market dried up and banks refused to lend to one another. these were insured banks and refused to lend to one another even overnight. and almost no one who followed financial markets for years saw anything like that. i think it was the result of serious stakes by government officials. first in rescuing bear sterns and then in not rescuing the brothers. and then in the same week aig became -- was unable to meet it's financial obligation and they went and rescued aig.
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many people said these guys have no idea what was doing. that made the crises much worse. >> covering the events we were in the summer of 2007 there was credit tension and markets globally and we saw that develop into bear sterns in 2008 and rescue of fannie mae and freddie mac in 2008 and the bankruptcy of the brothers in 2008 and then the rescue of aig. one of the things even the
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officials involved couldn't get their head around what was happening in these financial institutions. they looked like they were out of control banks. they were out of control finances. and i think president bush used the word or the phrase in 2008 wall street got dunk on fancy financial instruments and that is what he said behind closed doors. this was a wall street problem and they went and built up the balance sheet with all of this stuff. and there is extreme words in some of the banks. we were not sure how much they were able to absorb. how much capital they should have had otherwise. competing view about all of this is these wall street banks were entirely out of control and not being monitored properly. the regulators who were responsible for tracking them were not sure what was on the books.
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what was happening on the wall street end of this for a situation to get out of control that much without government regulators who should have been watching to know what was happening. >> the first thing you have to recognize about what was happening at this point was that fannie mae and freddie mac were not revealing the quality of the loans that they were taking on. fannie mae and freddie mac only brought prime loans before this. no one knew they were reducing their underwriting standards and buying sub-prime loans. so that as far as the market knew they had about $6.8-$6.7 million subprime loans. as a result they probably had about 18 million. regulators
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regulators. and wall street regulated insured banks are regulated by the government. in fact in the larger banks, there are examiners in the bank 24 hours a day, seven days a week all of the time. and they didn't recognize the risks that these institutions were taking on because the institutions themselves did not. one of the reasons as the bubble grows these mortgages become more and more valuable.
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there are very few defaults. when a bubble is growing, people can refinance if they cannot neat meet their finances. we thought the sub-prime mortgages were risky but we are not seeing a lot of default so we can go into the this business and invest in sub-prime mortgages which is what i think people in wall street did. they were helped by the accounting rules at the time because if your fortportfol -- portfolio. they began thooo loose many and look risky.
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the federal reserve probably has better regulations and a huge stack of economist that follow the market. when they were testifying in congress they would say we are having a little trouble in the sub-prime market but it doesn't look like it is so large we cannot overcome that even if we had a large number of failures
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in the market. it was amazing he was saying these things to congress in 2007 when fannie mae and freddie mac were on their way to insolvency. the market was infused with these mortgages. if he didn't know it the banks split up and don't share information about what is in the market among themselves they didn't know it either. so i have a little trouble with people who turn on the banks immediately and blame them for what happened in the financial crisis when it was so much the responsibility of the government. >> there is a widespread assumption that house prices were not going to decline and we have never seen a generalized national drop in home prices and that turned out to be a great understanding where we saw declines of 30-40 percent and
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more in areas of the coapt country. the banks have enormous risk management teams and highly paid executives responsible tr trying to understand the risk they have on the balance sheets and how the risk from counter parties from other banks and firms could affect them and what they have on their own lance we have the
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understand the position people were in at the time. and enjoyed this a lot. reading the book by michael lewis about a big short that talk said talked about people thinking there would be a collapse in the market. if you bought the right credit you could make a fortune. for 20 cents you could make a thousand dollars the way it was setup. and these guys went around on wall street and couldn't find any buyers because people said wait a minute. i don't see it happening. where are all of defaults. i mean we have had years and years now of growth in this market. the housing market in the united states as you suggested never
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declined by more than 3 or 4 percent. there is always uncertainty here. a lot of people say everything is going to continue to grow and some people said things would collapse. we have to stop what we are doing, change do something else but it is very hard to persade people do that that including people in congress if they are not seeing evidence that problems were occurring until 2007. we were led down the path of believing things would be find. in the end, we had a collapse that no one could foresee because of the absence of sufish sufficient sufficient data. >> the dodd frank act was one of the results and it built up
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regulations on too big to fail banks and created a whole lot of other entities or rules still being developed. what do you think would be different about dodd frank if people followed your view on the housing crisis? >> there wouldn't have been a dodd frank. because when you blame the private sector for whatever and when you say well it was just insufficient regulation and we could have stopped it from happening but the regulators didn't have enough power. then you get dodd frank and it is the reason we have had such a slow recovery in my opinion from the financial crisis and recession. this has been the slowest recovery since the mid-1960s by a wide margin. why is that? what happened to make such a difference? normally you have a big drop and then you have a fast recovery
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from it. a v-shape recovery. didn't happen this time and the reason i think is dodd frank and we have spent a lot of time trying to blame the private sector for what happened here. trying to impose new regulations on them and creating uncertainty for them. forcing them to reduce risk taking and all of those things caused or economy to grow a much more slower rate than it normally would after a recession and the problem is that if we had actually understood what happened in the financial crisis we would have said no wait a minute. we ought to reform what the government was doing. if we understood watt the government was doing and caused underwriting standards to decline as the book points out let's change the government's policy. if they ignore the government totally and focus entirely on regulated the private sector and
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i think that is the reason why we have the dodd frank act. so one of my purposes really with the book is to show the dodd frank act is not legit. it was based on the wrong target. it was pointed toward the private sector because many people support whatever it is the government does and in this case they wanted to -- they did not want to admit the government had been responsible for this crises. >> there were a number of other views on what or why we had a slow recovery. one view is there has been government austerity and we would have had more government spending. that is a common view. and another is overleverage consumers that took on way too much debt because of housing and in d leveraging and reducing that debt they have been slow to spend. dodd frank is another one and a view about regulations and
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restraining businesses and that is a common view from people on the right. one piece of dodd frank is about providing information. whether it is about what is happening on the consumer front, what is happening within banks and providing a clear picture through regulators and people on the ground watching what is happening. and do you think that is value in that and the government knowing what is happening in the complicated financial institutions and markets. >> i think there government always knew that. there is nothing in this i see that is new in terms of regulating financial institutions. there are two areas that are new. one is the ability of this financial stability oversight council to assign certain financial inconstitutions as systemically important and have them them regulated by the feds. that is one. and then the regulation of the
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future's business especially so-called credit default swaps is another. that is new. but other than that the regulators have tremendous power and knowledge over and about what was happening in the banking or financial system. >> they missed a lot of the details of what was in the housing sector. that is a point you make. there wasn't information on what was going on. do you think there are tools it get that information? >> if you look you will find. if we have a situation as we had before with there was a government agency that was in charge of the housing business and people looked to that agency as the one that was responsible and that would have been the department of housing and urban development and fannie mae and freddie mac operating under them. people said this is another form of moral hazard and people said
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we don't have to know anymore information because the government is protecting us. the government is behind us. nothing is going to be allowed to occur that the government is not in charge of in some way. so we don't have to worry about this. and that is a real danger. that is one of reasons we ought to turn the housing business over the to private sector again, let the private sector run it because under those circumstances the mortgages made would be prime mortgages. people don't want to make as a business matter it is not a good idea to make a sub-prime loan unless you are a specialist in that area and know how to price them and know how to deal with the people who are only capable of borrowing on a sub-prime bases. but if we turned it over to the
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private sector what we would see is a much more stable system where the information would be available to people about what is out there at all times without anyone thinking that there is -- the government is behind us and protecting us. ...
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not only as taxpayers. we have to bail out people when the government backed organizations fail but also very directly on the american people themselves as homeowner's. that is something that i don't think people have been recognizing. we have to be insisting on solid and under writing standards in order to keep a stable market and stable housing values. peter. thank you. pleasure. thank you.
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here is the look at the upcoming book fairs in the country. this weekend the city of new orleans hoef the tennessee literary. and the san antonio book festival will take place on the 11th in april. to air on both book tv and following weeks. book tv will be live from the university of southern california for the 20th
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annual times festival of books. and the key school and annapolis. let us know about the book fairs in the area. book tv continues. next j smith. the haddistry professor in the university of north carolina. and mary. a former employee of the center of student success and academic counseling chapel hl ill will report on two decades in the university of north carolina. student athletes were given fake or paper classes to artily officially boost their bpa's.


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