James Guess: Is The Game of American Capitalism Over?

By James Guess, Dallas South Contributor

Is it not ironic, that the game of free-market capitalism, the economic system responsible for creating the wealthiest country in the world, is now the culprit for the financial collapse of America’s $13 trillion economy?

Foreign leaders around the world have called out American style-capitalism as the reason for the worldwide economic slump. In hip-hop culture, there is a saying “don’t hate the player, hate the game,” but in this situation I must say, “we cannot hate the game, we must blame the players.”

So who’s to blame? We could start with the Federal Reserve, who kept money cheap by lowering interest rates below 2 percent from 2001-2004 and sparked sales of sub-prime mortgages. Beginning in 2001, sub-prime mortgages were a $200 billion industry, representing less than 10 percent of the mortgage market.

By 2004, the industry more than doubled to roughly $600 billion and its share of the mortgage market increased to 18 percent. However, former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan was only trying to jumpstart the economy after 9/11, so I think he deserves a pass. Next up, borrowers with poor credit history promised to pay and agreed to the exotic mortgages issued by mortgage brokers only to default later. They deserve a partial pass because although many of them knew they could not afford the homes, brokers manipulated them into the deals and did not fully explain the terms of their loans.

Greedy brokers also had huge incentives from earning commissions and fees and indeed performed sleight of hand on borrowers applications and documentation to make sure they received financing. But they were only selling mortgage products the banks offered — so next please. Introducing the credit rating agencies, who approved the sub-prime loans that Wall Street “securitized” and resold as mortgage-backed securities to investors around the world. No due diligence was performed by the rating agencies and since they are paid by the investment banks for grading their products, repeat after me, “conflict of interest,” – Flagrant foul!

Finally, Wall Street investment and commercial banks relaxed their credit standards and began buying lower quality loans, only to resell them to eager investors, hungry for higher returns. Banks knew they were issuing and selling poor quality loans from borrowers who had a history of defaulting or not paying their bills on time. They created products like the stated income loan, in which a borrower actually states how much money they make and the amount of their assets without documentation to prove it.

Why would banks create such a risky product? Because they were able to easily combine multiple loans, repackage them, and ultimately sell the loans and transfer all of the risk to the buyers. It was like playing “mortgage musical chairs,” and banks knew they would always have a chair once the music stopped – “double technical, ejection!”

While economist and political pundits are calling President Obama’s stimulus and bank rescue plan an indirect socialist scheme, I strongly disagree. Socialism, an economic mentality suggests that a government manage and plan the economy and ultimately control the production of products and services and make certain that wealth is evenly distributed to all citizens.

I do not think that the Obama administration referee’s want full control of all the players in the game of American capitalism. However, I think the administration does understand that some of the players have indeed cheated in a way that has compromised the integrity of the game and they must now review and amend the rules. And no, the game of American capitalism is not over, we just need to amend the rules and add a few more referees.

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