How can we reduce risk for individuals? That’s a natural question when a financial crisis has vaporized trillions of dollars of personal wealth in residential real estate and financial instruments. The problem is, when you try to reduce risk for individuals too much, you end up making things much riskier.
By Michael Barone
The Washington Times
Case in point: The financial system over the last decade. Our current difficulties arose from “the idea,” as Nicole Gelinas describes it in the New York Post, “that any loan, bond or other bank asset could be sliced up and turned into an instantly liquid, priceable and tradable security, with all its risks engineered away.” The securitization of mortgages seemed to reduce risk for everyone – for the lender (who avoided risk of nonpayment by selling the mortgage), for the borrower (who got the mortgage at a lower rate than otherwise) and for the purchaser (because all those mortgages couldn’t got belly up at once, could they?).
The problem was that the risk models were based on the experience of only the last seven years or so, and that both the Clinton and Bush administrations and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac encouraged the granting of mortgages to borrowers who were, by previous standards, uncreditworthy.
So eliminating risk ended up creating huge risk for everyone – so huge that just about no one, even the Treasury armed with $700 billion – wants to purchase the securitized mortgages in bank portfolios.