YLS Conference on the Financial Crisis

If you are a true crisis junkie (or you are having trouble falling asleep tonight and need more to read), my own Yale Law School held a conference on the financial crisis, its causes, and potential solutions (including better regulation) on Friday. There were a number of famous names present, including Lucian Bebchuk, Christopher Mayer (of the Hubbard-Mayer proposal), Anil Kashyap, and others. You can look at the agenda or check out the readings for sessions one, two, three, and four (each includes links to PDFs of the papers).

And where was I during all of this? I was home with my daughter.

(Let me know if you find something particularly important that I should read – I’m finding it impossible to keep up.)

7 thoughts on “YLS Conference on the Financial Crisis

  1. This is a ton of good stuff. Thanks for the link. I would want to see a review somewhere of the impact that financial economic theory had in the lead up to this crisis. I just read a fascinating book by Donald MacKenzie called “An Engine, Not a Camera” the subtitle of which is: “How Financial Models Shape Markets”. It was published before the crisis and is an excellent history of the development of financial economic theory and its enabling role in the growth of the derivatives market.

    There is a whole generation of ‘quants’ and MBA’s out there who thought they were doing the ‘right’ thing. Or at least were following the text book. It may be a bit close to home, but I think you guys should react to the role of economics as a causal factor in this mess!


  2. Dear Mr. Kwak,

    Thanks for your excellent analysis. I would be very interested in hearing your thoughts on a plan Joe Nocera at nytimes.com mentioned in his blog a few days ago. Some hedge fund managers proposed having banks bid portions of their own equity to be able to sell their assets at book value to the aggregator bank.

    It is outlined here:

    Click to access BankAuction.pdf

    This sounds like a good idea and seems like it would avoid the problems you addressed with Bebchuk’s proposal.


  3. Anyone see Inside the Meltdown last night on Frontline? Moral hazard.

    What I was to know is this: Are China, Japan, and the UK (the top three holders of US T bills as of Dec. 2008) creating a moral hazard situation for the US federal government? Are we doing things at the federal level with money continuing to pour in that we would not do otherwise?

    Do we have a choice?

  4. I think I finally have a name for this thing …

    It’s not a great depression. Yet. It’s more than a recession.

    How about:

    1. The Bush-Cheney Debacle?
    2. The Great Debacle?

  5. In terms of the session, I think teh Systemic Risk paper in session Two is probably a great primer for many, especially us non-economists who want to know what the term means.

    I’d also like to see someone gather up all of Session Three and do a synthesis – many of the papers appear to be saying the same thing in different ways.


    – Solve the loan problem.
    – Solve the derivative problem.
    – Reassemble whole loan mortgages

    The U.S. economy is shrinking fast, because businesses cannot get loans that they need to operate normally. Banks and lenders already own $ billions in bad loans, and they are afraid to make new loans. The government gave $ billions in bailout money for banks to start lending, but banks hoard the money to save themselves.

    Our financial system became untrustworthy, because it mixed $ billions in bad loans in with the good loans. Now, banks do not trust any of the loans, and the entire credit market stopped working.

    The U.S. economy will continue to shrink until we untangle the loans. Once the bad loans are isolated, they can be fixed one at a time. Then trust will be restored. Credit will flow, and the economy will grow.

    So far, our government is spending $ trillions on bailouts and pork projects, out of ignorance and political ideology. The real solution is much less expensive than that.

    The USA has fixed this problem before, and it is not hard to fix again. This is how:

    A) Start with the Resolution Trust Corporation (RTC), which the federal government setup to solve a Savings and Loan problem in the 1980s.

    B) RTC buys up securitized mortgages and derivatives to reassemble whole mortgage loans.
    1. “Securitized mortgages” are home loans that have been bundled into large groups and sold to investors. A group of about 4,000 mortgages can be “securitized” and sold just like a stock or bond. Investors like to buy groups of mortgages because they receive all the monthly house payments.
    2. Some groups of securitized mortgages were subdivided into smaller pieces, called “derivatives.” However, both of the fancy names refer to mortgage loans.
    3. The problem is that many bad loans (with no payments) got mixed in with good loans. That turned the all the securitized mortgages into bad investments, which are ruining our banks. It is a huge problem, and the government has to fix it, before our economy will recover.
    4. Total securitized mortgage and derivative market is estimated at $1.3 Trillion by a Professor of Economics at Ohio State University. (Also see the graph from Deutsche Bank at “The Death of Securitized Mortgages” http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2008/06/death-of-securitized-mortgages.html )
    5. Government should buy up securitized mortgages and derivatives at the lowest market price, which is set via a reverse auction. (Google on “reverse auction”.)
    6. Squatters, who sit on their mortgage derivatives, in order to extort big $ from the rest of the system, can be forced to sell. (Law is analogous to eminent domain, or sales forced on cybersquatters that registered the domain names of well-established companies.)
    7. Government pays mortgage derivative squatters at market price set by previous reverse auctions, perhaps with a penalty to the squatters.
    8. Sellers give up all rights. No new law there.
    9. Banks, investors, and insurers now have cash instead of questionable mortgage loans and derivatives. So, the banking system is healthy with cash to lend.
    10. Credit will flow, and the economy will grow.

    C) Government reassembles whole loans from securitized mortgage components and derivatives.

    D) Government sorts the newly reassembled whole loans (mortgages) into groups according to risk/quality.
    1. Government uses traditional mortgage experts and guidelines to sort the home loans into quality groups, for example, a high quality group would include homeowners with 20% (or more) equity in their house at today’s market price; and house payments that are 25% (or less) of homeowners monthly income.

    E) Government (RTC) sells the reassembled whole loans to traditional mortgage banks.
    1. This solves the problem of renegotiating home loans with homeowners. Read on.
    2. Law must be changed so that reassembled whole loan mortgages cannot be securitized into derivatives, again.
    3. An important purpose is to reconnect each homeowner with his lender, and vice versa.
    4. It eliminates incentive for mortgage lenders to make predatory and junk loans. If the loan fails, the lender is stuck with a bad loan.
    5. Government recovers much of the $1.3 Trillion purchase cost, because government auctions off the reassembled mortgages.
    6. The lower quality, more risky mortgages would fetch a lower price at auction.
    7. Mortgage companies, that buy the risky loans, will have more room to negotiate with the homeowners.
    8. Some homeowner negotiations will not succeed. Those homeowners will move into affordable rentals. (The government does not owe everyone a free house.)
    9. Other renters would like to buy those empty homes at reduced market prices.
    10. If the government gets stuck with some homes, the government could profit by selling the homes when the housing market recovers.

    F) Insurers like AIG may be reorganized through bankruptcy.
    1. Securitized mortgage pools never made business sense, unless they were protected by various insurance schemes.
    2. Those insurance schemes always were a scam.
    3. Insurance only works when most of the insured assets are never hit with a disaster. That is why flood insurance does not work very well. A major flood ruins all the buildings in a large area, all at the same time. So, the insurance company goes broke, and people that bought the insurance are not protected. That is the problem with securitized mortgage insurance. In an economic downturn, the “disaster” hits all the houses at the same time. Securitized mortgage insurance was doomed to fail, and the insurance companies went broke in 2009.
    4. Companies that ran the insurance scam may have to go through bankruptcy.
    5. Never ending government bailouts for insurers like AIG are just throwing good money after bad. So, stop the bailouts.

    This plan is inexpensive, tried and true. It leaves the banks healthy, with cash to lend. It restores trust in the credit markets, so loans will be made. It reassembles mortgage derivatives into whole loans, and restarts traditional mortgage lending. People can get loans to buy homes. Credit will flow, and the economy will grow.*


    *The economy will grow if President Obama’s massive tax, borrow, and spending plans can be stopped, before he creates another Great Depression. Presidents Hoover and Roosevelt already tried to tax, borrow and spend their way out of a recession in the 1930s. Instead, they created the Great Depression, which lasted 12 years. Straight as he goes, President Obama is doing it, again. Nevertheless, cleaning up the securitized mortgage mess is a necessary first step.

    If President Obama announced Steps 1 and 2, today, the stock market would go up within hours. Investors love a real business plan, instead of a political pork plan. Millions of people will be wealthier, feel wealthier, and have more money to spend. That will jump start the economic recovery within days.

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