OPEN LETTER TO BARACK OBAMA ON HIS AUTOBIOGRAPHY “A PROMISED LAND” Part 54 The financial system was in a meltdown and taking the American economy with it… By 2007, the American economy was not only producing greater inequality than almost every other wealthy nation but also delivering less upward mobility. I believed that these outcomes weren’t inevitable, but rather were the result of political choices dating back to Ronald Reagan”

January 15, 2021

Office of Barack and Michelle Obama
P.O. Box 91000
Washington, DC 20066

Dear President Obama,

I wrote you over 700 letters while you were President and I mailed them to the White House and also published them on my blog http://www.thedailyhatch.org .I received several letters back from your staff and I wanted to thank you for those letters. 

I have been reading your autobiography A PROMISED LAND and I have been enjoying it. 

Let me make a few comments on it, and here is the first quote of yours I want to comment on:

The financial system was in a meltdown and taking the American economy with it.
     Although Iraq had been the biggest issue at the start of our campaign, I had always made the need for more progressive economic policies a central part of my argument for change. As I saw it, the combination of globalization and revolutionary new technologies had been fundamentally altering the American economy for at least two decades. U.S. manufacturers had shifted production overseas, taking advantage of low-cost labor and shipping back cheap goods to be sold by big-box retailers against which small businesses couldn’t hope to compete. More recently, the internet had wiped out entire categories of office work and, in some cases, whole industries.
     In this new, winner-take-all economy, those controlling capital or possessing specialized, high-demand skills—whether tech entrepreneurs, hedge fund managers, LeBron James, or Jerry Seinfeld—could leverage their assets, market globally, and amass more wealth than any group in human history. But for ordinary workers, capital mobility and automation meant an ever-weakening bargaining position. Manufacturing towns lost their lifeblood. Low inflation and cheap flat-screen TVs couldn’t compensate for layoffs, fewer hours and temp work, stagnant wages and reduced benefits, especially when both healthcare and education costs (two sectors less subject to cost-saving automation) kept soaring.
     Inequality also had a way of compounding itself. Even middle-class Americans found themselves increasingly priced out of neighborhoods with the best schools or cities with the best job prospects. They were unable to afford the extras—SAT prep courses, computer camps, invaluable but unpaid internships—that better-off parents routinely provided their kids. By 2007, the American economy was not only producing greater inequality than almost every other wealthy nation but also delivering less upward mobility.
     I believed that these outcomes weren’t inevitable, but rather were the result of political choices dating back to Ronald Reagan. Under the banner of economic freedom—an “ownership society” was the phrase President Bush used—Americans had been fed a steady diet of tax cuts for the wealthy and seen collective bargaining laws go unenforced. There had been efforts to privatize or cut the social safety net, and federal budgets had consistently underinvested in everything from early childhood education to infrastructure. All this further accelerated inequality, leaving families ill-equipped to navigate even minor economic turbulence.
     I was campaigning to push the country in the opposite direction. I didn’t think America could roll back automation or sever the global supply chain (though I did think we could negotiate stronger labor and environmental provisions in our trade agreements). But I was certain we could adapt our laws and institutions, just as we’d done in the past, to make sure that folks willing to work could get a fair shake. At every stop I made, in every city and small town, my message was the same. I promised to raise taxes on high-income Americans to pay for vital investments in education, research, and infrastructure. I promised to strengthen unions and raise the minimum wage as well as to deliver universal healthcare and make college more affordable.
     I wanted people to understand that there was a precedent for bold government action. FDR had saved capitalism from itself, laying the foundation for a post–World War II boom.

Ronald Reagan wasn’t the cause of the 2008 housing crisis but Bill Clinton’s administration had a lot to do with as this article below rightly noted:

Then why is Clinton culpable? Because his secretary of housing and urban development, Andrew Cuomo, current governor of New York and a likely 2016 presidential aspirant, accelerated easy-housing policies and inflated the housing bubble, setting the stage for its collapse.

Former U.S. President Ronald Reagan (L) presents then, president-elect Bill Clinton (R) with a jar of jelly beans during Clinton's visit to Reagan's office in Los Angeles in this November 27, 1992

Ronald Reagan Bill Clinton with a jar of jelly beans in November of 1992

Clinton’s Legacy: The Financial and Housing Meltdown

Clinton sowed the seeds of the Great Recession by helping to inflate the housing bubble.

SHELDON RICHMAN | 10.14.2012 8:00 AM

Bill Clinton is certainly full of himself these days. That might have something to do with the fact that no one is likely to ask why he hasn’t owned up to his share of the blame for the housing and financial bust.

The former president is treated like an elder statesman whose tenure in office was so good that even some Republicans look back fondly on it. On the surface his economic record looks good, but it would be rash to credit Clinton. During his time in office the information revolution took off, boosting productivity and economic growth. And when his Democratic Party lost control of Congress in 1992, Clinton had to accept spending restraints, which meant less government obstruction to economic growth.

Clinton, however, sowed the seeds of the Great Recession by helping to inflate the housing bubble, a key part of the financial debacle of 2007. But this wasn’t because he (not George W. Bush) signed two financial deregulation bills. Although Clinton legalized interstate banking in 1994 and commercial/investment banking combinations in 1999, that had nothing to do with the meltdown.

Then why is Clinton culpable? Because his secretary of housing and urban development, Andrew Cuomo, current governor of New York and a likely 2016 presidential aspirant, accelerated easy-housing policies and inflated the housing bubble, setting the stage for its collapse.

The meltdown was the consequence of a combination of the easy money and low interest rates engineered by the Federal Reserve and the easy housing engineered by a variety of government agencies and policies. Those agencies include the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and two nominally private “government-sponsored enterprises” (GSEs), Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The agencies — along with laws such as the Community Reinvestment Act (passed in the 1970s, then fortified in the Clinton years), which required banks to make loans to people with poor and nonexistent credit histories — made widespread homeownership a national goal. This all led to a home-buying frenzy and an explosion of subprime and other non-prime mortgages, which banks and GSEs bundled into dubious securities and peddled to investors worldwide. Hovering in the background was the knowledge that the federal government would bail out troubled “too-big-to-fail” financial corporations, including Fannie and Freddie.

The housing boom could last for a while, but the bust was inevitable. When the Fed raised interest rates, things went kaboom. The Great Recession was on; we’re still suffering its effects. Without these government housing and monetary policies, the crisis would never have occurred.

Clinton’s contribution to the crisis lay in his appointment of Cuomo to HUD. Cuomo became HUD secretary in 1997 after becoming assistant secretary in 1993. In a heavily researched 2008 article in the Village Voice, Wayne Barrett writes,

Andrew Cuomo, the youngest Housing and Urban Development secretary in history, made a series of decisions between 1997 and 2001 that gave birth to the country’s current crisis. He took actions that — in combination with many other factors — helped plunge Fannie and Freddie into the subprime markets without putting in place the means to monitor their increasingly risky investments. He turned the Federal Housing Administration mortgage program into a sweetheart lender with sky-high loan ceilings and no money down, and he legalized what a federal judge has branded ‘kickbacks’ to brokers that have fueled the sale of overpriced and unsupportable loans. Three to four million families are now facing foreclosure, and Cuomo is one of the reasons why.

Barrett continues,

Perhaps the only domestic issue George Bush and Bill Clinton were in complete agreement about was maximizing home ownership, each trying to lay claim to a record percentage of homeowners, and both describing their efforts as a boon to blacks and Hispanics. HUD, Fannie, and Freddie were their instruments, and, as is now apparent, the more unsavory the means, the greater the growth.…

Cuomo … did more to set these forces of unregulated expansion in motion than any other secretary and then boasted about it, presenting his initiatives as crusades for racial and social justice. [Emphasis added.]

Bill Clinton gave Cuomo that power and backed his aggressive policies to the hilt. Bill Clinton, then, shares responsibility for the Great Recession. When will he be held accountable?

This column originally appeared at FFF.org.

Sincerely,

Everette Hatcher III, 13900 Cottontail Lane, Alexander, AR 72002, ph 501-920-5733 everettehatcher@gmail.com

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