Peter Schiff, one of the recognized contrarian economists who forecast the crash, wrote yesterday that Geithner and company are trying to restoke the securitization market as the way to revive the economy. Bad idea.
In the worldview of Geithner and like-minded economists, credit, rather than savings, is the central figure in the economic equation. Therefore, he sees anything that eases the process of lending to be an effective economic policy. With such a view in mind, the centerpiece of Geithner’s plan is the commitment of up to $1 trillion to revive the collapsed market for securitized debt. In the lead up to the Crash of 2008 securitization, more than anything else, permitted Americans to borrow more than they had ever borrowed before.
Developed primarily over the last 10 years, securitization permitted loans of all shapes and sizes to be packaged into investment-ready securities. The system worked, fueling unprecedented levels of lending in the home, auto, student, and credit card sectors. But in the last few years as the collateral underpinning these securities has collapsed in value, the trillions of dollars of securitized debt now in circulation has become the toxic sludge at the bottom of our financial pit. Geithner is making the false assumption that cleaning up and rebuilding the securitization market is a prerequisite for a healthy economy.
Our nation’s short history with wide securitization has simply shown that the process can lead to massive mispricing of assets and risk. By artificially rebuilding the securitization market, and committing taxpayer funds as collateral, the U.S. economy will be pushed farther and farther out on a leveraged limb, until no amount of market medicine can prevent a total economic collapse.
In truth, the only vital function provided by securitization was that it offered foreign savers a pathway to lend directly to American consumers, and Wall Street executives a new asset class to over-leverage for massive profits. Our economy must dispense with these gimmicks if it hopes to pursue a meaningful recovery.
After more than a decade of unsustainable borrowing and spending, the private sector is currently attempting to restore balance through reduced consumer and mortgage credit, greater savings, and lower asset prices. With its trillions of dollars of credit injections and stimulus programs, the government hopes to allay this process by force-feeding Americans a diet of more borrowing. They feel that a restored securitization market will help. It won’t. It will just grease the skids for a quicker collapse.
Credit, whether securitized or not, cannot be created out of thin air. It only comes into existence though savings, which must be preceded by under-consumption. Since savings are scarce, any government guarantees toward consumer credit merely crowd out credit that might otherwise have been available to business. During the previous decade too much credit was extended to consumers and not enough to producers (securitization focused almost exclusively on consumer debt). The market is trying to correct this misallocation, but government policy is standing in the way. When consumers borrow and spend, society gains nothing. When producers borrow and invest, our capital stock is improved, and we all benefit from the increased productivity.
This reaffirms my fears the Geithner and Summers are simply proposing ways to return to the status quo ante of our over-leveraged economy. If so, they are not thinking outside the box of the last two decades, and this is a recipe for only worse disaster down the road.
Please tell me this isn't so. How is this different from Bush economic policies?