Fannie and Fred were “government sponsored enterprises” which means heads they win, tails you lose. If they make money stockholders, creditors and Fannie and Freddie employees – some making millions annually – get the benefit. But now that mortgages have hit the skids, with mounting losses, the taxpayers potentially face trillions in exposure. This is because there is an “implicit” (read “actual”) government guarantee of Fannie and Freddie’s obligations and both are now too big to be allowed to fail. This is called the “bailout phase,” which will probably lead to a bigger bubble in the future.
Lost in this immense, complex mess is the root problem most people are missing: the government is gradually becoming the guarantor of seemingly every important aspect of American secular life, creating incentives and bureaucracies that cause failure and invite fraud.
In Fan and Fred’s case, it was in no one’s interest to turn off the bubble machine. Just the opposite. The system induced borrowers to take on financial obligations they could not afford and lenders to lower lending standards. Fannie and Freddie went along because their managers’ compensation depended on the firms’ short term financial performance. And investors continued to buy complex security packages they didn’t understand, because the securities were viewed as government-backed.
Heavy campaign contributions by those benefiting from this scheme induced Members of Congress to avert their gaze from the ugly mess that was unfolding.
You’d think we’d have learned by now: when the backstop of the federal treasury makes it easier for politicians, lenders, borrowers, welfare recipients, government contractors, or anyone else, to serve their own self interest at the expense of the taxpayer, many will do just that.
That is why we continue to see self-dealing, moral lapses, outright fraud and lack of management and oversight in a wide array of programs and government-sponsored entities, from housing to Medicare, education and the Small Business Administration, all costing taxpayers billions, even trillions of dollars.
Our Founding Fathers knew more than a little bit about human nature. It is one reason why in the Constitution, the federal government was given certain delineated powers and no others. I hate to burst another bubble, but our government simply doesn’t have the authority or the capability to be the guarantor or insurer of our every need or desire. Isn’t it time we started sending that message loud and clear to the big enablers in Washington?
Fred Thompson has been a lawyer, actor and United States Senator. He writes exclusive analysis and commentary for Townhall Magazine.