Righting a Wrong: The 2008 Housing Crisis

Go Lean Commentary

Have you ever made a mistake?

“Let him that is without sin, cast the first stone” – Jesus Christ (The Bible @ John 8:7)

Since everyone makes mistakes, a good measure of a good character is how we “Right the Wrongs” that we may have caused to others. This could be the measurement of a good man (or woman), a good company and a good community. People want to be associated with goodness. They will travel great lengths and at great cost to associate with good people, affiliate with good companies and live in a good community.

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There are lessons to be learned when people, companies and communities make mistakes and then make concerted efforts to “Right the Wrongs”. These are lessons that can be applied right here in the Caribbean so as to supplement our efforts to elevate our society, to make the Caribbean homeland a better place to live, work and play.

This is more than just an academic discussion for the Caribbean; we are known to have our defects – we repeatedly make mistakes, we endanger people, oppress them, suppress their rights and then carry on unrepentant – this all results in “pushing” people away, causing societal abandonment. We must recognize these defects and repent, reconcile, reform and “Right the Wrongs” of our society.

This is the purpose of the book Go Lean…Caribbean, to help reform and transform the societal engines in the 30 member-states of the Caribbean region. The book serves as a roadmap for the introduction and implementation of the Caribbean Union Trade Federation (CU). The Go Lean/CU roadmap applies best-practices for community empowerment and features these 3 prime directives, proclaimed as follows:

  • Optimization of the economic engines to grow the regional economy to $800 Billion & create 2.2 million new jobs.
  • Establishment of a security apparatus to protect public safety and ensure the economic engines of the region.
  • Improvement of Caribbean governance to support these engines.

What “Wrongs” exactly can we consider to glean lessons-learned for our community empowerment? This commentary is 1 of 4 in a series considering how to “Right a Wrong”. The full series is as follows:

  1. Righting a Wrong: 2008 Housing Crisis
  2. Righting a Wrong: Puerto Rico’s Bankruptcy
  3. Righting a Wrong: Volkswagen Emissions Crisis
  4. Righting a Wrong: Takata Air-Bags

These “Wrongs” relate to bad actions and inaction by different actors. The image and reputations of stakeholders “take a hit” while the issue is fresh. But eventually the recovery – Righting the Wrong – can override and became the lasting legacy. This first wrong – 2008 Housing Crisis – was one of the episodes of the recent Great Recession. The Go Lean book sought to catalog the cause-and-effect of many 2008 developments from an inside perspective. The book identifies its authority to comment on these developments. See this “Who We Are” quotation (Page 8) and the VIDEO in the Appendix below:

This book is published by the SFE Foundation, a community development foundation chartered for the purpose of empowering and re-booting economic engines. …

2008 – The peak day of the recent global financial crisis was September 15, 2008. On this day, Wall Street giant Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy protection, and eventual dissolution, after succumbing to the weight of over-leverage in mortgage-backed securities. There is an old observation/expression that states that “there are 3 kinds of people in the world, those who make things happen, those who watch things happen and those who wonder ‘what happened?’“
Principals of the SFE Foundation were there in 2008 … engaged with Lehman Brothers; on the inside looking out, not the outside looking in. Understanding the anatomy of the modern macro economy, allows the dissection of the processes and the creation of viable solutions.

Omaha – The book was initially composed in Omaha, Nebraska, the home of one of the world’s richest men, Warren Buffet – the “Oracle of Omaha” – CEO of corporate giant Berkshire Hathaway. While the United States experienced boom and bust during the Great Recession, Omaha remained a stable, consistent model of prosperity (in March 2008 the unemployment rate in Omaha was 3.9 percent). This was no accident. This community embraces a certain ethos that is fundamental for stability and vibrancy: good corporate citizenship. Omaha is home to other corporate movers-shakers in addition to Berkshire Hathaway; (see Appendix A [on Page 254]). This community example is purported as a model for assimilation by the Caribbean region.

The Go Lean book, though composed in 2013, set the pattern for the Caribbean region to look-listen-learn from models, samples and examples like these. This allows for the regional stewards and administrators to structure policies and procedures so as to apply the lessons learned in their jurisdictions. This was an original intent. As a planning tool, the Go Lean book commenced with a Declaration of Interdependence, pronouncing the need for regional integration so as to improve our society based on lessons learned from other societies. See a stanza here (Page 14):

xxxiii. Whereas lessons can be learned and applied from the study of the recent history of other societies, the Federation must formalize statutes and organizational dimensions to avoid the pitfalls of communities like East Germany, Detroit, Indian (Native American) Reservations, Egypt and the previous West Indies Federation. On the other hand, the Federation must also implement the good examples learned from developments/communities like New York City, [Omaha,] Germany, Japan, Canada, the old American West and tenants of the US Constitution.

So here is the Wrong … and here is the “Righting of the Wrong” associated with the 2008 Housing Crisis:

The Wrong:
In 2008 a perfect storm of economic disasters hit the US and indeed the entire world. The most serious began with the collapse of housing bubbles in California and Florida, and the collapse of housing prices and the construction industries. Millions of mortgages (averaging about $200,000 each) had been bundled into securities called collateralized debt obligations that were re-sold worldwide. Many banks and hedge funds had borrowed hundreds of billions of dollars to buy these securities, which were now “toxic” because unknown values and no buying markets.

A series of the largest banks in the US and Europe collapsed; some went bankrupt, such as Lehman Brothers with $690 billion in assets; others such as Citigroup, the leading insurance company AIG, and the two largest mortgage companies (Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac) were bailed out by the US government. Congress voted $700 billion in bailout money, and the Treasury and Federal Reserve committed trillions of dollars to shoring up the financial system. But the measures did not reverse the declines – banks drastically tightened their lending policies, despite infusions of federal money. The government, for the first time, took major ownership positions in some banks. The stock market plunged 40%, wiping out tens of trillions of dollars in wealth (estimates tallying $11 Trillion); housing prices fell 20% nationwide wiping out trillions more. By late 2008 distress was spreading beyond the financial and housing sectors, especially as the “Big Three” of the automobile industry (General Motors, Ford and Chrysler) were on the verge of bankruptcy, and the retail sector showed major weaknesses. Critics of the $700 billion Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) expressed anger that much of the TARP money that had been distributed to banks was seemingly unaccounted for, with banks being secretive on the issue.[45] [See this portrayal in these photos or the VIDEO at https://youtu.be/N9YLta5Tr2A.]

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Righting the Wrong:
In February 2009, [the newly inaugurated] President Barack Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act; the bill provided $787 billion in stimulus through a combination of spending and tax cuts. The plan was largely based on the Keynesian theory that government spending should offset the fall in private spending during an economic downturn; otherwise the fall in private spending would perpetuate itself and productive resources, such as the labor hours of the unemployed, will be wasted.[46] Critics at the time claimed that government spending cannot offset a fall in private spending because government must borrow money from the private sector in order to add money to it. However, most economists do not think such “crowding out” is an issue when interest rates are near zero and the economy is stagnant.

The recession period officially expended only 6 quarters (Q4-2007 to Q1-2009), but the effects were longer lasting. This was deemed the Great Recession because of the fundamental shifts the economy made. For example, in the US, jobs paying between $14 and $21 per hour made up about 60% those lost during the recession, but such mid-wage jobs have comprised only about 27% of jobs gained during the recovery through mid-2012. In contrast, lower-paying jobs constituted about 58% of the jobs regained.

As of December 2012, the US Federal Reserve Bank reported that the net worth of US households recovered by $1.7 trillion to $65 trillion during Q3-2012. It was still below the record high of $67 trillion during Q3-2007, but up $13.5 trillion since its recent cyclical low during Q1-2009.[47]

Source: Book Go Lean…Caribbean Page 69 – 70

None of the Boom-and-Bust homes in this drama were in the Caribbean; (though Puerto Rico and US Virgin Islands are American territories and did have crises, their home pricing were only mildly affected, going up or going down only a little).

While this was a crisis for continental America, due to inaction on the part of Caribbean regional stewards, this 2008 crisis brought devastation to our region. In some cases, we are still reeling from it; they are near Failed-State status as a result.

There were bad actors in this crisis. They had their Day of Reckoning as well. See these previous blog-commentaries that detailed the aftershocks of the 2008 economic crisis:

http://www.goleancaribbean.com/blog/?p=10187 Day of Reckoning for NINJA Loans
http://www.goleancaribbean.com/blog/?p=8379 Economic Fallacy: Self-regulation of the Centers of Economic Activity
http://www.goleancaribbean.com/blog/?p=6531 A Lesson in History – Book Review of the ‘Exigency of 2008’
http://www.goleancaribbean.com/blog/?p=1896 The Crisis in Black Homeownership
http://www.goleancaribbean.com/blog/?p=1309 5 Steps of a Bubble
http://www.goleancaribbean.com/blog/?p=353 Book: Wrong Economic Policy Disasters and What We Can Learn

One mission of this Go Lean roadmap is to apply the lessons from this American Drama in the stewardship of our Caribbean homeland. Since we also had financial upheavals in our region, many things these were due to contagions of the American crisis. So we needed remediation of our financial institutions as well. This point was detailed in this previous blog-commentary from November 14, 2014:

‘Too Big To Fail’ – Caribbean Version

There were [financial] crises on 2 levels: the Global Financial Crisis of 2007 – 2009 and regional financial banking dysfunctions. See here:

Global – The banks labeled “Too Big To Fail” impacted the world’s economy during the Global Financial Crisis. Though the epi-center was on Wall Street, the Caribbean was not spared; it was deeply impacted with onslaughts to every aspect of Caribbean life (think: Tourism decline). In many ways, the crisis has still not passed.

Regional – The Caribbean region has not been front-and-center to many financial crises in the past, compared to the 465 US bank failures between 2008 and 2012. But over the past few decades, there have been some failures among local commercial banks and affiliated insurance companies where the institutions could not meet demands from depositors for withdrawal. Consider these examples from Jamaica and Trinidad:

  • There was a banking crisis in Jamaica in the 1990s. In January 1997, the decision was made to establish the Financial Sector Adjustment Company (FINSAC) with a mandate to take control and restructure the financial sector. FINSAC took control of 5 of the 9 commercial banks, 10 merchant banks, 21 insurance companies, 34 securities firms and 15 hotels. It was also involved in the re-capitalization and restructuring of 2 life insurance companies, with the requirement that they relinquish their shares in 2 commercial banks.[48]
  • For Trinidad, the notable failure was the holding company CL Financial, with subsidiaries Colonial Life Insurance Company and the CLICO Investment Bank (CIB). In mid-January 2009, this group approached the Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago requesting financial assistance due to persistent liquidity problems. The global financial events of 2008 combined with other factors placed tremendous strain on the group’s Balance Sheet. The CL Financial lines of business ranged from the areas of finance and energy to manufacturing and real estate services. The group’s assets were estimated at US$16 billion at year-end 2007, and it had a presence in at least thirty countries worldwide, including Barbados. Most significantly, the company held investments in real estate in Trinidad and the United States of America, and in the world’s largest methanol plant prior to its difficulties.

Going forward, there needs to be a solution to mitigate systemic threats that may plague the Caribbean region.

This is the quest of the Go Lean roadmap. The book first presents the community ethos that the region needs to adopt; then it presents detailed strategies, tactics, implementations and advocacies for the economic stewards to deploy. These constitute Big Ideas for the Caribbean region.

For one, there is the plan for a Caribbean Central Bank!

Among the Big Ideas of the Caribbean Union Trade Federation is the introduction and assimilation of the Caribbean Central Bank (CCB) and the Caribbean Dollar. The CCB is actually a cooperative among the region’s Central Banks. All the existing Central Banks, at the time of ascension, will cede their monetary powers to the CCB and continue their participation using well-established cooperative principles. – Go Lean…Caribbean book Page 73

Secondly, there is the tactic of a separation-of-powers between the CU/CCB entities and the member-states in the region. This directive allows for the transfer of oversight and administration of certain state functions to the CU federal authorities. This is modeled after the European Union and the European Central Bank.

This is how the Go Lean roadmap proposes to “Right the Wrongs” of the recent financial crises: to incorporate the organizational structure with the mandate to administer and shepherd the region’s monetary and banking eco-system. This intent was pronounced at the outset, in the opening Declaration of Interdependence, enshrining the need for regional integration on monetary matters for Caribbean society. See the related stanzas here (Pages 12, 13):

xi. Whereas all men are entitled to the benefits of good governance in a free society, “new guards” must be enacted to dissuade the emergence of incompetence, corruption, nepotism and cronyism at the peril of the people’s best interest. The Federation must guarantee the executions of a social contract between government and the governed.

xxiv. Whereas a free market economy can be induced and spurred for continuous progress, the Federation must install the controls to better manage aspects of the economy: jobs, inflation, savings rate, investments and other economic principles. Thereby attracting direct foreign investment because of the stability and vibrancy of our economy.

xxv. Whereas the legacy of international democracies had been imperiled due to a global financial crisis, the structure of the Federation must allow for financial stability and assurance of the Federation’s institutions. To mandate the economic vibrancy of the region, monetary and fiscal controls and policies must be incorporated as proactive and reactive measures. These measures must address threats against the financial integrity of the Federation and of the member-states.

Now is the time for the Caribbean to embrace change. From an economic perspective, we have done wrong … in the past – at a minimum, we are guilty of inaction. We now need to “right those wrongs” or especially to develop the defenses to ensure no future damage to our economy by dysfunctional administration of the region’s monetary and economic engines. It is time for new stewards of the Caribbean economy, security and governing engines. It’s time for the CU/CCB. We must prove that we have learned from our past and that of our trading partners. We must do better and be better.

A lot is at stake: the hopes and dreams of our people, young and old. They all want; we all want a better Caribbean; better places to live, work and play. 🙂

Download the free e-Book of Go Lean … Caribbean – now!

Sign the petition to lean-in for the roadmap for the Caribbean Union Trade Federation.


Footnote References

45 – Holt, Jeff. “A Summary of the Primary Causes of the Housing Bubble and the Resulting Credit Crisis: A Non-Technical Paper”. 2009, 8, 1, 120-129. The Journal of Business Inquiry. Retrieved 15 February 2013.

46 – Congressional Budget Office – “Estimated Impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act on Employment and Economic Output from October 2011 Through December 2011”. February 2012; retrieved June 2013.

47 – American Enterprise Institute – Retrieved December 2012 from: www.aei-ideas.org/…/u-s-net-worth-hasrecovered-13-5-trillion-but-still- below-2007-peak/

48 – Retrieved November 14, 2014 from: http://www.centralbank.org.bb/WEBCBB.nsf/WorkingPapers/DB0CF759B9E97FB9042579D70047F645/$FILE/Exploring%20Liquidity%20Linkages%20among%20CARICOM%20Banking%20Systems.pdf


Appendix VIDEOThe 2008 Financial Crisis: Crash Course Economicshttps://youtu.be/GPOv72Awo68

Published on Oct 21, 2015 – Today on Crash Course Economics, Adriene and Jacob talk about the 2008 financial crisis and the US Goverment’s response to the troubles. So, all this starts with home mortgages, and the use of mortgages as an investment instrument. For years, it seemed like the US housing market would go up and up. Like a bubble or something. It turns out it was a bubble. But not the good kind. And the government response was…interesting. Anyway, why are you reading this? Watch the video!
More Financial Crisis Resources:
Financial Crisis Inquiry Report: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/GPO-FCIC…
TAL: Giant Pool of Money: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio…
Timeline of the crisis: https://www.stlouisfed.org/financial-…


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