The response to the post on complexity theory and the financial crises has been very positive. Been recieving lots of positive feedback, thank you to any who have written or commented.
Several people, including Steven Johnson, the author of Emergence, posted a link to this great piece “The Economy Does not Compute” that I encourage everyone to read.
Dave D. emailed me with this fascinating story from the New York Times that arguably pinpoints the moment the incentives in the market were shifted that started us down the road to the present crises. Entitled Fannie Mae Eases Credit To Aid Mortgage Lending the piece is dated September 30th, 1999. This excerpt below really summarizes the underlying logic and benefits for initiating the change as well as predicts the ultimate catastrophe that it would unleash (remember, written in 1999):
”Fannie Mae has expanded home ownership for millions of families in the 1990’s by reducing down payment requirements,” said Franklin D. Raines, Fannie Mae’s chairman and chief executive officer. ”Yet there remain too many borrowers whose credit is just a notch below what our underwriting has required who have been relegated to paying significantly higher mortgage rates in the so-called subprime market.”
Demographic information on these borrowers is sketchy. But at least one study indicates that 18 percent of the loans in the subprime market went to black borrowers, compared to 5 per cent of loans in the conventional loan market.
In moving, even tentatively, into this new area of lending, Fannie Mae is taking on significantly more risk, which may not pose any difficulties during flush economic times. But the government-subsidized corporation may run into trouble in an economic downturn, prompting a government rescue similar to that of the savings and loan industry in the 1980’s.
”From the perspective of many people, including me, this is another thrift industry growing up around us,” said Peter Wallison a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. ”If they fail, the government will have to step up and bail them out the way it stepped up and bailed out the thrift industry.”
The article shows us the challenges around blaming any one individual – except possibly Blll Clinton – as once the incentives for embracing a higher risk group were altered it vastly increased the chance that more and more people would cater to them and expose themselves to that risk.
The other fascinating thing about this piece is how the web is now getting to be old enough that it is becoming a fantastic tool for historians. Think of how much richer our history is going to be when critical documents like this one are both more accessible and easier to locate.