Thursday, December 17, 2009

Question for readers

Do you agree with Time's choice of Ben Bernanke as Person of the Year?

To paraphrase an old Paul Krugman saying, "Whom the Gods would destroy, they first put on the cover of BusinessWeek Time magazine."

By the way, here's a little Bernanke nugget from The Wall Street Journal's Real Time Economics blog:
In an extended interview with Time Magazine, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke says he refinanced his own mortgage a couple of months ago at 5%, and switched from a floating rate, which the Fed chairman said “exploded” in cost, to 30-year fixed. Mr. Bernanke bought a 2,600 square foot house in 2004 for $839,000.

A conspiracy theorist might infer that Mr. Bernanke sees rates rising a lot in the years ahead. Why else lock in a low rate now? It’s also interesting that he had an adjustable rate mortgage whose cost exploded. Could the Fed chairman have been in an exotic mortgage with a rate that reset much higher?

20 comments:

  1. Sure - why not. The time "person of the year" is not always good (or bad) its just someone who is influential. Thus, one of the 1930s person of the year was Adolph Hitler.

    We can all agree, Bernanke certainly has been "influential" this year.

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  2. I agree with Mish. This is a contrarian indicator.

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  3. Ohhh. That's kinda spooky. I don't want to see Mr. Bernanke destroyed. He seems nice.

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  4. I agree with Anonymous (#1 poster).

    I think Bernanke did a tremendous job during the collapse. Much better than a "free market" purist.

    It was Bernanke who said "There are no atheists in foxholes, and no ideologues in financial crises."

    However, Bernanke really missed the boat by not seeing the trainwreck coming. He told Congress just months before the Sept. meltdown that sub-primes posed no significant risk to the economy because they were only about 18% of all mortgages. He was really clueless about the opaque OTC derivatives market which had leveraged those mortgages.

    Which gets to what I think is an important point: Those who grouse the most about the bailout, or the extended nature of the rescue (low rates, buyer credits, etc.) are the last persons we hear grousing about the unregulated derivatives market -- and how the top banks are using it again at even higher levels than they did before the meltdown!

    If they focused on how greater regulation may be necessary, it would conflict with their "less government" mantra. It's almost like their message is "government doesn't work" and then proceed to prove their point (by ignoring constructive opportunities for government to work better.).

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  5. Mark F said...
    It was Bernanke who said "There are no atheists in foxholes, and no ideologues in financial crises."

    I thought Paul Krugman said it, so I did some research. Bernanke and Krugman both paraphrased Harvard professor Jeffrey Frankel. They each used the quote within a week of each other in September 2008. Bernanke apparently used it first, but wasn't quoted publicly until after Krugman used it on Bill Maher's TV show. The quote first gained traction after Frankel's July 17, 2008 blog post. His original use was in a Cato Institute publication. Here's the full original quote:

    They say “there are no atheists in foxholes.” Perhaps, then, there are also no libertarians in crises. Even those in favor of sharply reducing the role of the government usually agree that, for example, there is a valid lender of last resort role for the central bank in the event of banking panics or disruptions as occurred on September 11, 2001. But crises should not become an excuse for public policy that is hasty or ill-informed, or that serves primarily the interests of the policymakers themselves or of special interests. The response must be appropriate and careful. It must be informed by the longer term perspective offered in the lessons of historical precedent, particularly regarding the fallibility of well-intentioned government intervention, and by an awareness of the dangers identified in the theory of moral hazard.

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  6. There could not have been a better pick. The man of the year was the enabler of the crisis so in a backhand sort of way this works. Nice.

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  7. getyourselfconnected said...
    There could not have been a better pick. The man of the year was the enabler of the crisis...

    How was Chairman Bernanke the enabler? If a Fed Chairman was an enabler it would have been "Rock Star" Greenspan for holding rates too low too long, and then raising them too high too fast just before retiring, and leaving someone else to clean up the mess!

    Remember, it was former Chairman Greenspan who fought against regulating derivatives in '97 (saying "counterparty surveillance" was sufficient to regulate that market.). The same guy who appeared before Congress in 2008, looking like a broken man, saying he'd found a "flaw" in the (libertarian) belief system which had driven most of his life.

    IMO, Bernanke was a bag-holder. Completely oblivious to what he was inheriting (I admit that's his fault). But, we were fortunate that he'd spent most of his life studying the Great Depression. If he would have been a non-intervention guy, things would be much worse.

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  8. Ben bought a house at the worst time ever and refinanced at 5%. I sold my house in 04 for 3 times what I paid in 99. I just got a new one in 09 with a 4.5% 30 year fixed mortgage....am I smarter than Ben?

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  9. Anonymous said...

    "Ben bought a house at the worst time ever and refinanced at 5%. I sold my house in 04 for 3 times what I paid in 99. I just got a new one in 09 with a 4.5% 30 year fixed mortgage....am I smarter than Ben?"
    Did you buy the same-size property? Was it cheaper than what you sold your first property? If yes, then you are smart. If not, then you are dumb.

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  10. He must have done something right. There's been no 'blood in the streets', no 'Great Depression Part Deux", nor even anything close to the extent of unemployment and problems we experienced in the '70s ... Most folks are oblivious to the recession which ended recently ... as they went about their business consuming to a level that not even the wealthiest of the wealthy consumed at a mere 30 years ago. The man deserves a medal for the soft landing he engineered. Of course those who've never lived through the downside of 'the business cycle' will blame him (or whoever) rather than understand that just like winter comes around periodically, so do recessions. And this has been a light recession as far as recessions go.

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  11. Anonymous said...
    "Ben bought a house at the worst time ever and refinanced at 5%. I sold my house in 04 for 3 times what I paid in 99. I just got a new one in 09 with a 4.5% 30 year fixed mortgage....am I smarter than Ben?"

    Apparently.

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  12. Mark F seems unaware that there is a Board of Governors at the Federal Reserve. Ben Bernanke was on the Board of Governors during the growth of the housing bubble in the early part of this decade. He had a lot of influence over Fed policy at the time.

    (Of course, if you read Mark F's past comments you'll see that he doesn't actually believe in a housing bubble. He's the new Lance. In his world view, Wall Street bankers destroyed a perfectly reasonable housing market. And libertarian bloggers who have been warning about a housing bubble for years are complicit in this destruction.)

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  13. "And this has been a light recession as far as recessions go."

    Yeah it has, but it will be the longest. Banks will continue to lose money on the millions upon millions of empty homes they have.....and the government cant keep handing out money and keep interest low to people as incentive to buy them up. The piper has to be paid eventually and putting it off doesnt mean its over.

    I say we give him a medal now and take it back from him 5 years down the road!

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  14. MarkF,
    Bernanke has been a player in monetary policy for some time. He is gukity for the past as well. The only way I would give him a pass is if he was doing things differently thn Greenie did, but he is not.

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  15. I strongly disagree with their choice. It makes me mad. You have thousands of people in Iran fighting for their freedom, very much like they tried to do 30 years ago when they expelled the Shah, and Time thinks this jerk is person of the year? Here's the summary of his accomplishments:

    Q1: Don't raise the rates
    Q2: Don't raise the rates
    Q3: Don't raise the rates
    Q4: Don't raise the rates

    Give me a break.

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  17. Ben bought a house at the worst time ever and refinanced at 5%. I sold my house in 04 for 3 times what I paid in 99. I just got a new one in 09 with a 4.5% 30 year fixed mortgage....am I smarter than Ben?

    No just very lucky.

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  18. "I just got a new one in 09 with a 4.5% 30 year fixed mortgage"

    considering that you sold your home a couple of years before the peak and bought only 3/4ths the way down. I would say you probably will still lose money when its all said and done, so no you arent smarter than anyone.

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  19. was bernanke underwater? He bought
    into the peak....

    How do you refi if you are underwater?

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  20. "How do you refi if you are underwater?"

    Have more assets than debts I would suppose. Multi-millionaires dont take the loans cause they need the cash.

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