Gretchen Morgenson and Joshua Rosner's Reckless Endangerment has made the bizarre claim that "sure [James Johnson] retired... [from] Fannie Mae in 1999", but he is "crucial to understanding the origins of the worst financial debacle since the Great Depression." As I see it, this is simply wrong: we would have had the housing boom, the housing crash, the financial crisis, and our current Little Depression even had James Johnson never set foot inside Fannie Mae, and even if the GSEs had not made any mistakes at all.
This means that the "it's all Fannie Mae's fault!" meme is back on the menu. It should not be.
David Min does the trash pickup:
Wallison: Still Wrong About Genesis of Housing Crisis: If you’ve been closely following the housing finance reform debate, you may have come across a pair of shrill blog posts penned by Peter Wallison, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a Republican appointee to the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission. He responded to my February 2011 article, “Faulty Conclusions Based on Shoddy Foundations,” which criticized the research underlying Wallison’s dissent from the majority of the members of that commission, and his contention that U.S. affordable housing policies caused the global financial crisis.
In these blog posts on The American Spectator’s blog on May 24 and on AEI’s blog on May 26, Wallison criticizes ”Faulty Conclusions” as “fallacious,” “fraudulent,” and “deceptive”; claims that it contains a “fake” chart; and describes the article as a “political screed.”... [T]hese accusations are baseless and distract from the fact that Wallison does not actually address the main arguments of “Faulty Conclusions.” Wallison does not contradict the claim that his FCIC dissent depends critically on the categorization of millions of home mortgage loans as “high risk” that are not actually high risk. Wallison also fails to answer other serious issues with his arguments that were pointed out in “Faulty Conclusions.”...
Wallison, of course, wrote a lonely dissent from both the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission majority report and from his fellow Republican commissioners, in which he alone blamed the global financial crisis on U.S. affordable housing policies. This argument is clearly contradicted by the facts, including the following:
- Parallel bubble-bust cycles occurred outside of the residential housing markets (for example, in commercial real estate and consumer credit).
- Parallel financial crises struck other countries, which did not have analogous affordable housing policies
- The U.S. government’s market share of home mortgages was actually declining precipitously during the housing bubble of the 2000s.
These facts are irrefutable.
Wallison’s argument, which places most of the blame on the affordable housing goals of the former government-sponsored enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac before they fell into government conservatorship in 2008, also ignores the actual delinquency rates. As David Abromowitz and I noted in December 2010:
Mortgages originated for private securitization defaulted at much higher rates than those originated for Fannie and Freddie securitization, even when controlling for all other factors (such as the fact that Fannie and Freddie securitized virtually no subprime loans). Overall, private securitization mortgages defaulted at more than six times the rate of those originated for Fannie and Freddie securitization.
So how did Wallison get to the conclusion that it was federal affordable housing policies that caused the crisis, despite the countervailing evidence? As Phil Angelides, chairman of the FCIC, has stated:
The source for this newfound wisdom [is] shopworn data, produced by a consultant to the corporate-funded American Enterprise Institute, which was analyzed and debunked by the FCIC Report.
Angelides is of course referring to Wallison’s AEI colleague Edward Pinto.... To support his claim that the Community Reinvestment Act, which requires regulated banks and thrifts to provide credit nondiscriminatorily to low- and moderate-income borrowers, caused the origination of 2.24 million outstanding “high-risk” mortgages, Pinto includes many loans originated by lenders who were not even subject to CRA.... [I]n arguing that Fannie and Freddie’s affordable housing goals caused the origination of 12 million “subprime” and equivalently “high-risk” loans, Pinto includes millions of loans that would not typically qualify for those goals. In fact, the vast majority (65 percent) of the “high-risk” loans Pinto attributes to the affordable housing goals of Fannie and Freddie fall into this category....
So how does Wallison go about defending Pinto’s work?... [H]e does not actually address the central issue—that Pinto categorizes as “high risk” many millions of mortgages that are demonstrably not high risk....
It is of course well known, including by their regulator, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, that Fannie and Freddie were responsible for some actual high-risk loans, primarily through their purchases of high-risk private-label securities for their investment portfolio as well as through purchases of actual high-risk loans for their core securitization business. Yet as Wallison knows, this actual high-risk activity by Fannie and Freddie was neither sufficient in volume nor did it come at the right time to persuasively argue that the two mortgage finance giants drove the surge in actual high-risk lending we saw in the 2000s. Did Fannie and Freddie buy high-risk mortgage-backed securities? Yes. But they did not buy enough of them to be blamed for the mortgage crisis.... [T]he nonpartisan Government Accountability Office, the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies, the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission majority, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, and virtually all academics, have all rejected the Wallison/Pinto argument that federal affordable housing policies were responsible for the proliferation of actual high-risk mortgages over the past decade. Indeed, it is noteworthy that Wallison’s fellow Republicans on the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission—Bill Thomas, Keith Hennessey, and Douglas Holtz-Eakin, all of whom are staunch conservatives—rejected Wallison’s argument as well.
This is why neither Wallison nor Pinto try to make the argument that the federal government was responsible for the proliferation of actual high-risk lending that occurred in the past decade, as such a claim would be quickly rejected as ridiculous. Instead, what Wallison and Pinto do... is to expand the definition of “high risk” and “subprime” to include new categories of loans not ordinarily understood to be high risk. This expansion of “high-risk” lending is essential to the Wallison/Pinto argument...
To the extent that Morgenson and Rosner make an argument for the centrality of Fannie and Freddie--let alone the centrality of the decade-retired James Johnson--it is that Fannie and Freddie's example was necessary to teach financial services firms how to effectively lobby the regulators and congress for lax supervision and surveillance. It is true that Fannie and Freddie were good at lobbying congress. But does anybody really think that Countrywide or Bear Stearns had anything to learn about lobbying?