There is nearly universal agreement that the opening salvo of the Obama Administrations campaign to restore health to the financial system, delivered this week by new Treasury Secretary Geithner, fell with a loud and ugly thud. The most common criticism is that the announcement was short on detail. What is abundantly clear, however, is that the new Administration intends to push spending back up to pre-crash levels and to fill the entire credit void that has disappeared into the black hole of the American financial system. Whether or not the prior levels of spending and lending were justified by market conditions then, or now, appears to be largely unexamined.
In the worldview of Geithner and like-minded economists, credit, rather than savings, is the central figure in the economic equation. Therefore, he sees anything that eases the process of lending to be an effective economic policy. With such a view in mind, the centerpiece of Geithners plan is the commitment of up to $1 trillion to revive the collapsed market for securitized debt. In the lead-up to the Crash of 2008 securitization, more than anything else, permitted Americans to borrow more than they had ever borrowed before.
Developed primarily over the last 10 years, securitization permitted loans of all shapes and sizes to be packaged into investment-ready securities. The system worked, fueling unprecedented levels of lending in the home, auto, student, and credit card sectors. But in the last few years as the collateral underpinning these securities has collapsed in value, the trillions of dollars of securitized debt now in circulation has become the toxic sludge at the bottom of our financial pit. Geithner is making the false assumption that cleaning up and rebuilding the securitization market is a prerequisite for a healthy economy.
February 14, 2009
Peter Schiff is president of Euro Pacific Capital and author of The Little Book of Bull Moves in Bear Markets and Crash Proof: How to Profit from the Coming Economic Collapse.