As Winnie the Pooh is fond of saying to his friends in the 100 Acre Wood, I am a bear of very little brain. So, unlike all of those Ivy League graduates who (over)populate elite institutions like the Federal Reserve, the U.S. Treasury, the White House, and the Congress, I try to keep things simple. The mess we are in today is nothing more than the readjustment necessary to eliminate the unjustified and/or ponzi-like growth that occurred in the stock and housing markets during Bill Clinton’s and George W. Bush’s presidencies.
From the Tulip mania in 1637 Holland to the South Sea Company bubble in 1720 and the Railway mania in the 1840s in Britain to the Florida land boom in the 1920s to today, it appears that we are incapable of remembering the old adage that if it sounds too good to be true, it is. Over the last thirteen years, despite centuries of history’s lessons, we ignored those lessons and the warning signs along the way in search of a quick buck. Shame on us.
Just as Amity Shlaes and other experts have shed new light on the Great Depression and forced a much-needed reevaluation of the wisdom and utility of the New Deal policies promoted by Franklin Roosevelt, historians and economists need to begin reevaluating America’s “lost decade” that began in 1995 and ended in 2007. Just as FDR erroneously took credit for getting America out of the Great Depression, Clinton erroneously takes credit for the economic boom that occurred during his presidency, but went bust shortly thereafter. As we know, Clinton’s economic boom was fueled by the dotcom bubble and shady accounting practices that led to the Enron and countless other company meltdowns, as well as risky housing policies that disconnected the risk of the borrower from both the size of the mortgage and the equity required to put down on it.
As the stock boom went bust in 2000 and 2001, people rushed to “safer” assets like real estate. The housing market went gangbusters as the federal government added more fuel to the Clinton campfire by pushing Freddie Mae and Frannie Mac to support even riskier loans to people even more unworthy of credit and with no skin in the game. The Clinton campfire turned into an uncontrolled Bush forest fire ripe with speculators, fraud, and the ponzi-like notion that housing prices would always increase, thereby allowing the pyramid to grow as those first in got paid by those behind them. The housing pyramid collapsed when those at the bottom couldn’t find any more suckers to enter the game and the banks came calling.
Matt A. Mayer, President & CEO of Provisum Strategies LLC and Adjunct Professor at The Ohio State University, is the author of the book “Homeland Security and Federalism: Protecting America from Outside the Beltway” available in June 2009.