Sunday, September 14, 2008

Averting an acronymn-inspired apocalypse

To all appearances, cultivating melanoma at the Jersey shore this week in a bid to "get away from it all" very nearly made me miss the near-miss wholesale collapse of the international finance system, as the subject was not broached in either of the John Stewart or Stephen Colbert reruns I consented to in my bedchamber after dinner. Luckily, NPR made some mention of it all on the drive up; but, as often happens when NPR covers important topics, their academic expert in this case seemed scarcely able to explain the situation to himself, let alone to an audience who had never heard of government sponsored enterprises (GSE's) of a sort like the Federal National Mortgage Association, or "Fannie Mae."

The situation was not helped by an interviewer who insisted that "when we hear the word 'nationalization,' people like to think of Hugo Chavez!"; and asked "doesn't China own Fannie debt?" or whether or not we really have a "free-market" economy now that government is parceling bailouts like prescription painkillers at happy hour; all of which strikes me as neither here or nor there when the bottom line is that central agency responsible for buying up the vast majority of our home mortgages drank -- or more to the point, was permitted to chug -- the same subprime Kool Aid as the private banks who are in the game solely for profit.

True to form, congressional Republicans now assail Fannie for ever having a public purpose in the first place and point to privatization as the solution -- because we all know how well that end of the capital markets is working out. You see, the whole problem is government meddling in the economy; meanwhile Lehman Brothers looks ready to be rocketed to the great financial leper colony in the sky, with AIG and Merrill Lynch not far behind. And nevermind that it was a conspicuous lack of meddling on the part of government which precipitated the financial meltdown of 1929, thus rendering an organization like Fannie Mae necessary in the first place. Oh, history, would you just shut up for once!

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