Sep 182008
Authors: The Harvard Crimson Editorial Board

(U-WIRE) – Economic gloom is the trademark of most newspaper headlines as of late. Oil prices rise and fall, but bear bad omens either way. The housing market continues to deflate.

And in the midst of it all, a number of Wall Street’s most venerable institutions are disintegrating.

No matter the cost to American taxpayers, and no matter what the path of one’s economic thinking, it is clear that in the case of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and, now, American International Group, the Federal Reserve did what it needed to do to protect everyday Americans from serious financial trouble.

Beginning last spring with its facilitation of the sale of Bear Stearns, which left taxpayers in the hole for $29 billion, and the August bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac – an action the Bush administration had repeatedly denied it would take in the past few years – to this week’s announcement of an $85 billion loan for AIG, the Federal Reserve has offered a steadying hand in our current financial crisis.

Though one might argue that the explicit mandate of the Federal Reserve is to maintain growth and control inflation, no two goals are more closely wedded to the economic wellbeing of the average worker and consumer.

Therefore, it is essential that the government support both the nation’s largest mortgage provider and one of the largest insurers, lest they fall completely, levying a harsh and direct impact of American homeowners and healthcare consumers. To put in perspective the centrality of these companies to their respective sectors and to the financial market as a whole, consider that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac finance roughly 80 percent of new mortgages for American homebuyers, while AIG provides more commercial insurance than any other company in the world.

Moreover, AIG’s dominance in the life insurance and fixed annuities markets makes its performance particularly important to the financial health of so many Americans.

Trevor Jones, a managing director at Insurance Security Services, told the Financial Times that permitting the collapse of AIG would be akin to “taking the foundation stone out of a skyscraper.”

That said, these bailouts highlight major issues with our current financial system at large. The risk-laden, unregulated environment in which these companies – such as Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers and a host of other Wall Street firms – have been operating is completely unacceptable.

While we do not support unbridled regulation of the market, in some instances it is indeed necessary.

Government oversight is particularly important in sectors and for companies that have a broad and direct impact on everyday Americans.

Look to the sub-prime mortgage markets as an example.

The clear greed and corruption that led to unprecedented profits via severely leveraged transactions, all in the pursuit of pushing the sheets through the roof, was left unblocked.

The result is that now the average American taxpayer is paying the price through bailouts, and the average consumer is losing his or her shirt by foreclosures, inflation and rising unemployment.

We do not claim to be economic experts, nor can we point to one cause for or one solution to our current economic crisis.

But we do believe that our financial system needs to be changed, and the culture of rampant, unregulated and inexcusably over-leveraged deal-making needs to be stopped by judicial and measured regulation.

 Posted by at 5:00 pm

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