In the Sunday NYT, Greg Mankiw posits the following:

• Governments cannot Regulate. Proof? Radical Deregulation failed…

• “I’m not saying Fannie Mae was THE cause of the collapse — but they were a major causal factor.”

• We have no clue why Economists suck — but they just do.

You can read the rest of his intellectual detritus here.

Category: Really, really bad calls, Regulation

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor implied. If you could repeat previously discredited memes or steer the conversation into irrelevant, off topic discussions, it would be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.

35 Responses to “Shorter Greg Mankiw”

  1. Graphite says:

    Governments cannot Regulate. Proof? Radical Deregulation failed…

    This isn’t what Mankiw says at all. In fact, he says that efforts to expand regulation of the GSE’s were thwarted by Congress and entrenched interests.

    Fannie Mae was absolutely a major causal factor in the collapse. The only people who can’t see that are the ones who want to paint the whole thing as the evil doings of unregulated investment banks (which, yes, also played their role in the collapse), which were somehow both operating under an umbrella of laissez-faire AND enjoying explicit state support.

    Mankiw suggests more regulation is needed for institutions taking federally-insured deposits, including tighter capital controls. For those who see “more regulation” as a viable solution to prevent financial crises, the problems he raises — of Congress being subject to pressure and regulators being outmanned and outgunned — are legitimate ones. I have yet to see any of the “IT WAS ALL DEREGULATION’S FAULT, RE-REGULATE NOW!” crowd address these problems with anything except the sort of gainsaying seen in this post.

    Even taking BR’s post at face value, doesn’t the government’s loosening of financial regulations exactly when they were most needed suggest that it basically just follows the herd, and something similar could happen again in a couple of generations when the next bubble gets going, no matter how more aggressively we rein in risk-taking in the near term?

    The risk of failure is the main “regulation” we need to bring back to financial markets.

  2. franklin411 says:

    You know, it’s really quite simple.

    We put in a series of rules and regulations during the New Deal. The American economy had suffered a series of economic depressions/panics caused by financial speculators about every decade since the 1870s. Then, after the New Deal rules were put in, we did not even suffer one financial crisis over a period of 50+ years.

    This period is significant–it’s a generational lapse. IE, the people who were alive to see the Depression unfold were all dead. A younger generation took over, and the cliche “young and dumb” exists for a reason. They proved why. Confident that they knew more than their fathers, they scrapped the New Deal regulatory regime during the 1980s-2008.

    Guess what? As soon as those New Deal “restraints” were removed, we suffered…a financial crisis just about every decade since the 1980s.

    Even a child can solve this problem. Let’s say every time you walk around barefooted, you stub your toe. Then one day, you decide to wear slippers, and for 50 years you suffer no more stubbed toes. Then one day you take the slippers off, and you start stubbing your toe again. Solution?

    Put the slippers back on, moron!

  3. Graphite

    Its become a regular right wing talking point to blame the crisis on Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac. I have no love for either (recall we recommended shorting them before they imploded). However, they were merely one cog in the mortgage machine, and a much less important factor in the collapse than Mankiw implies.

    Whenever someone blames FaM/FrM, I ask the following questions:

    What percentage of mortgages did Fannie Mae underwrite that were zero down payment? Or how about no income check? No credit check? What % were Option arms? Negative Amortization? Piggy Back 2nds? How many were sub-prime?

    Let’s get even more specific: From 1995 to 2005, what percentage of mortgages that Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac purchased went belly up? How about from 2005 forward? How does this compare to the rest of the mortgage industry?

    And a final question: If Fannie Mae dissolved in the year 2000, would the crisis have occurred anyway?

  4. Moss says:

    The relentless adherence to an ideology is something that will not subside nor change. All that can be done is to temper each extreme, either right or left with rational discussion and historical facts. All the experts are so conditioned to their particular view that is is now quite predictable what will be said by who. Regulators who do not regulate since their belief is that regulation stifles the free market should not be regulators. It certainly is reasonable to say that this mess would not have been so dramatic had Glass-Steagall not been annihilated.

  5. RW says:

    I’ve pretty given up on Mankiw and I see BR rightly calls out Graphite’s bullshit (and so politely too) but the regulatory question remains troubling because it wasn’t just an issue of deregulation, there were also regulations still in place that regulators were unwilling or unable to enforce.

    What seems to be clearer is there are probably some (currently legal) activities that it would be better to outlaw than attempt to regulate because complexity takes a lot of oversight and at some point regulatory zeal and acumen will lag ( and there are other behaviors or circumstances wherein the principals should be treated as legal partners regardless of corporate structure; e.g., if a TBTF entity has to be bailed out to save the system then top management will be wiped out (

    And then there is the other burning question, will WV or Butler make it to the end of the bracket demolition derby? Wow!

  6. flipspiceland says:

    A nation divided as the unUnited States are will never be ‘governed’ with anything resembling rationality.

    The Federal Government and most state governments are the enemies of the people, existing only to curtail, eliminate, and pervert freedoms in favor a tiny minority.

    For the most graphic example 1) point to the TSA which takes your shampoo bottles and toe nail clippers to stop Osama bin Laden from taking down the unUnited States , and 2) the Senate Finance and committee and the Treservesec, led by a group gypsies, tramps, thieves and scoundrels that cannot manage to take out the Banksters and shoot them for taking a relatively decent but imperfect world and turning it into a living nightmare for hundreds of millions if not billions of people only to enrich a few members of The Tribe, by simply giving them the trillions of the people’s money for horrific risks of their own that went bad AND STILL DOING IT with undisguised relish.

    The Federal Government DOES regulate but regulates only for the benefit of a handful of The Tribe.

  7. constantnormal says:


    While I might quibble with your statement that economic panics were “caused by financial speculators” (maybe so, maybe not — it is an arguable point), on balance I tend to strongly agree with you that the rules and restrictions (i.e., “regulations”) put in place during the Great Depression have given us considerable relief from financial calamities over the ensuing years.

    In my more cynical moments, I wonder if it was possibly a case of “too much security”, helping us to forget why they were there.

    But then I wake up and realize that the forces pushing for removal of any/all restraints would have done so regardless of any “lessons” along the way (just look at their activities today).

    We really do need ironclad regulation of the financial industry. That’s not to say that we could not improve on the mechanisms put into law in the 30′s, but at least would might try and return to them as a starting point, and change them very carefully going forward.

    In particular, I would like to see a category of something akin to “corporate crimes against society”, modeled upon the RICO statutes, that could be used to jail senior corporate management who have contributed significantly to societal wreckage. As things stand, about all that can be done against these bums is civil suits by irate stock and bond holders, who generally lack the resources and motivation to go after these clowns.

    I recall reading on one of Paul Erdman’s novels, of a Swiss law that he called “crimes against a bank”, whereby corporate malfeasance in the Swiss banking realm was punishable by jail time. We need something like that, but across all the financial industry.

  8. rootless_cosmopolitan says:


    “A nation divided as the unUnited States are will never be ‘governed’ with anything resembling rationality.”

    I wonder what’s on your mind how you would like to have it, instead. How would it look like “undivided”? Care to explain?


  9. Haigh says:

    If you are an advocate for more Federal regulation check out the interview with Harry Markopolos and his comments about the SEC. Financial regulation is too important to simply trust the competencies of the Federal government. A combination of laws that drive financial reporting transparencies along with buy-side private analytics would be more trustworthy.

  10. franklin411 says:

    I agree. The way I would put it is that the New Deal regulatory attitude was “protect society against the banks,” while the Reaganesque attitude towards regulation was “protect banks against society.”

  11. Marcus Aurelius says:

    Starting with Reagan, the push for deregulation (as well as insufficient taxation, but that’s another story) was about further enriching those at the top levels of our political and corporate spheres by giving them carte blanche to loot the treasury and disenfranchise the populace by any means they could connive. More recently, under Bushco, this push for Corporatist control of our nation’s government and economy was about putting as many feckless dimwits as possible into positions of oversight — making it virtually impossible to stop or reverse the enterprise. These “officials” didn’t have the brains, much less the motivation (personal or political), to stop what had become blatant criminality (forget regulations — laws were broken) . Regulation without enforcement is nothing. Deregulation without the means or will to correct obviously criminal developments was disastrous, and it ain’t over yet.

    Along the way, every manner of political and psychological persuasion was used — from religion, to race baiting, to nostalgia for an American ideal straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting, to telling relatively secure people that America was under siege from enemies, domestic and foreign. The empty promise was that if Republicans were elected, the common man would be more wealthy, freer, and more secure.

    The liberalization of banking and finance regulations was rebranded as conservatism.

    It was bait-and-switch, and it worked.

    I don’t know Greg Mankiw from Adam, but from what I read at the link, he’s as much an apologist as any alleged “journalist” or “expert” working today.

  12. Ned Baker says:

    I thought Mankiw was completely reasonable here. And I’m also tired of his usual partisan brattiness.

  13. Joe P says:

    Barry, on this one, I think you can be reasonably accused of reading the byline, not the piece. It’s much less offensive than you make it out to be, and how weird is it that you put quote marks around something that is not actually a quote from the piece. Pretty shoddy. Finally, I don’t have a fully formed view on whatever role Fannie & Freddie played in the crisis, but just because they didn’t buy all those crap-type mortgages you enumerate doesn’t mean they didn’t foster an overall liquidity situation in the market that allowed those kinds of loans to be made. What were there combined assets, like $1.6 trillion? You don’t think that was an important factor? What was the total value of all those exotic mortgages you list? A great deal less than that, I’m guessing. Whatever. Your post is generally unhelpful to anyone trying to figure out what’s going on. Next time, I guess we should just put Barry in charge and we’ll all be safe.


    BR: I actually read Mankiw hoping to be pleasantly surprised. His views on Supply Side silliness and Pigou taxes are refreshing.

    Its pretty obvious that the entire post is sarcasm — and the quoted line is obviously a gross exaggeration. I assumed the audience here was sophisticated enough to recognize it was me imitating his voice/meaning, and not a verbatim quote.

    As to Fannie and Freddie, they were not permitted to buy crap mortgages until 2005 — when competition from Wall Street was causing them a loss of overall market share. FNM FRE started buying subprime at the top, when the collapse was all but inevitable.

    People who paint this as a causal factor usually a) dont know the facts; 2) have a political agenda

  14. Marcus Aurelius says:

    Joe P:

    I don’t know about assets held, per se, but here’s what we’ve lost:

    From Wikipedia:

    “Estimates of impact have continued to climb. During April 2008, International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimated that global losses for financial institutions would approach $1 trillion.[243] One year later, the IMF estimated cumulative losses of banks and other financial institutions globally would exceed $4 trillion.[244] This is equal to U.S. $20,000 for each of 200,000,000 people.”

    And I don’t believe that includes Alt-A and Option ARM.

    Which government agency will you blame when the CRE defaults start rolling in?

  15. Marcus Aurelius:
    Mankiw used to(as did “B-52″ Ben) hold the job that either Larry Summers(or Christina Romer) hold now.

  16. Fredex says:

    This is why we need short sellers. They have a financial incentive to do the investigaative legwork that the SEC can’t/won’t (for whatever reason.)

  17. rootless_cosmopolitan says:

    Marcus Aurelius,

    “I don’t know about assets held, per se, but here’s what we’ve lost:”

    Who is “we” in this statement? It’s not that everyone has lost money in this. Some/many have lost, others haven’t gained or lost anything, yet others have made a gain. After all, the money the ones lost went into someone else’s pockets.


  18. Andy T says:

    And a final question: If Fannie Mae dissolved in the year 2000, would the crisis have occurred anyway?

    Simple Answer: No.
    You’re guilty of looking at things through the lens of the last decade and not seeing the underlying problem of these institutions as they have existed for the last few decades.

    It should NOT be the government’s role to subsidize housing or home prices. PERIOD. That is PRECISELY what those institutions do. There were THE $$TRILLION + bid to the housing market for decades, which created the overarching trend of “higher home prices forever.” That false hope of a trend that always goes up is what attracted the super-dumb money and vultures at the tail end (last several years).

    It’s pretty easy to see in when viewed in the “Big Picture.”

    I’m surprised you haven’t seen that visual panorama yet….

  19. Marcus Aurelius says:

    rc: Are you kidding? We, as in all of us. Maybe you missed the whole recession/depression/bailout/toxic asset thing.

    Andy T: I sat at the table for quite a few settlements on new homes during the bubble. I don’t remember a single Fannie Mae qualifying loan being made. It was commercial mortgage banking, pure and simple, on residences AND investment properties to as unqualified buyers as you could imagine. Low, or no money down and great teaser rates — but closing costs were ALWAYS paid. Fees, baby, fees! “New Financial Products!” What a hose job.

  20. algernon says:

    Mankiw’s article is reasonable & intelligent. Barry, I think you had a knee jerk reaction to mention of Fannie/Freddie.

    Barry, I’m intrigued that you believe more than most economic commentators in freedom & free markets, and yet you have an emotional distaste for anyone with a little Republican flavor to them. Republicans leave a lot to be desired from time to time, but at least they have a little more appreciation of markets than the Democrats. For instanc, Republicans are more of an anti- bail-out party–in sympathy with you, in other words. But there is something you hate about them.


    BR: Republicans are more of an anti-bail-out party? WTF?!? The bailouts were the product of Bush Paulson Bernanke, all GOP.

    Obama’s great failure was following the same program.

    Its not Republican flavor I dislike, its foolish ignorance. There’s no love lost between me and the Dems as well. Did you miss the recent trashing of the Obama foreclosure abatement program?

  21. rootless_cosmopolitan says:

    Marcus Aurelius,

    1. You were talking about bank losses and you were quoting some estimates for those. I haven’t made any bank losses. (Personally, I have made quite big gains in the stock market during the recession in relation to my, admittedly not so big budget).

    2. While banks have made losses, someone else has made gains. The money that banks lost with their bad investments didn’t dissolve into thin air. Someone else got it, instead

    Thus, the generalizing use of “we” is not appropriate to precisely describe what has happened.


  22. Thus, the generalizing use of “we” is not appropriate to precisely describe what has happened.–rootless
    “Whoever controls the volume of money in any country is absolute master of all industry and commerce.” — James A. Garfield, President of the United States

    “Banks lend by creating credit. (ledger-entry credit, monetized debt) They create the means of payment out of nothing.” — Ralph M. Hawtrey, Secretary of the British Treasury

    “The Federal Reserve banks, while not part of the government,…” — United States budget for 1991 and 1992 part 7, page 10

    “The Federal Reserve bank buys government bonds without one penny…” — Congressman Wright Patman, Congressional Record, Sept 30, 1941

    “Neither paper currency nor deposits have value as commodities, intrinsically, a ‘dollar’ bill is just a piece of paper. Deposits are merely book entries.” — Modern Money Mechanics Workbook, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, 1975

    “What’s in Your Wallet?”

  23. tamaragranger says:

    Firstly, Mankiw’s a newspaper article so it has a plain language and tries to give a overall view of things. You can’t start talking advance economics in a newspaper. I don’t like that you’re dissing profesor Mankiw in a paragraph, if you’re going to diss people type more than 50 words so it actually makes some sense. Economists have been getting some heat because even the greatest minds couldn’t predict this financial crisis, and yes, economists should forecast with extreme care. Because we are not gypsies or have a magic ball we cannot predict the future.

  24. rootless_cosmopolitan says:

    Mark E Hoffer,

    Yours is a quite a cryptic way to deliver an argument. I really don’t have any interest in doing the guessing/free interpretation game what you want to tell me with this list of quotes and the link to the collection of links in reply to what I said.


  25. rootless_cosmopolitan says:


    “Economists have been getting some heat because even the greatest minds couldn’t predict this financial crisis, and yes, economists should forecast with extreme care.”

    There are economists who said it was coming. So, it’s just not true that no one could see it coming. Perhaps, it doesn’t need the greatest minds for this after all. It needs the right understanding of the functional relationships in the economy, instead.

    “Because we are not gypsies or have a magic ball we cannot predict the future.”

    The financial crisis didn’t come out of nothing. One doesn’t need a magic ball to understand causal/functional relationships, when one uses the correct methods and tools to study them scientifically. That is true for the economy as well.


  26. rootless,

    try it this way– to your point, encapsulated by: “Thus, the generalizing use of “we” is not appropriate to precisely describe what has happened”

    I gave you some background, the Quotes, (you know, to try to help you out) and, then, asked you: “What’s in Your Wallet?”

    Are you, still, sure that you’re not part of the “we”?

  27. Marcus Aurelius says:


    Then why are “we” running deficits? Regardless what “you:” have made on the markets since that time, the net for “us” is a loss. A very large loss. BTW: unless you’ve cashed out and taken profits, you haven’t “made” any money, yet.


    At the time this banking debacle was taking place, the depth of my understanding of mortgages was that 3X gross income was the outer limit of acceptable leverage on a mortgage, with all kinds of requirements and documentation prior to the loan being granted. I watched this leverage expand to 5X, then 10X, with virtually no requirements on income, verification, or even simple ability to service the loan at the teaser rates. Something was going to break down (I must admit, that then, as now, the big question was how long they could keep it up.

    This current uptrend in the markets (but not the broader economy) has all of the same characteristics of fluff.

    If an economist can’t see trouble coming from that type of liberal lending, used ubiquitously, exactly what is it they do? Did any of their scholarship and deep thinking help anyone, or does economics consist of pithy political pronouncements of opinion — without any basis in or relationship to reality?

  28. When I posted this, I had already written this:

    So Mankiw got a portion of wrath directed towards him that was aimed at Leonhardt

  29. moneyearnin says:

    We know Barry leans left, thats obvious as his virulence is mainly directed toward those with a republican view/stance. Barry has done terrific work on the causes of the financial crisis for citing the rating agencies, derivatives, securitization, etc. I think he downplays the GSE’S role in the crisis because he ignores the sentiment they helped create in the mortgage market. Stocks are affected by sentiment all the time, ex. tech bubble . Why should we ignore FNM FRE, and politicians involvement in exacerbating the crisis? Corruption ran deep in FNM FRE for years as their ceo’s competed with private lenders for loans and fudged financial statements all during the boom years. FNM FRE were responsible for a large part of the irrational exhuberance in housing. Why Barry gets so angry when people like Mankiw raise this issue is why some of us wonder if its Barry who is acting political?

  30. rootless_cosmopolitan says:

    Mark E Hoffer,

    “Are you, still, sure that you’re not part of the “we”?”

    Actually, whether I am personally part of this “we” wasn’t my main point for making my statement. The main point was that not everyone lost due to the recession. The funds the ones lost didn’t vanish into thin air. Someone else got them. The losses of the ones are the result of a redistribution of funds from the ones to others in the economy.

    But yes, with respect to my personal balance sheet I think I came out of this recession with a net financial gain. Unless I count as losses the difference between what I think someone’s income in my profession and with my qualification should be and what my actual income is. This would lead to the broader topic of income generation and redistribution in a capitalist economic system. I don’t want to go there now.

    My luck or results from applying my skills with respect to my personal balance sheet might change eventually down the road. Or not. And even if I was wrong with respect to my personal balance sheet it wouldn’t change the validity of what I said in the first paragraph above.


  31. rootless_cosmopolitan says:

    Marcus Aurelius:

    “Then why are “we” running deficits?”

    Do you mean the government deficit, since I don’t run a deficit, personally? The deficit by itself isn’t a loss. It only means the spending is higher than the funding for the spending from one’s own income. It’s funded by someone else through lending, instead. The expectation of the lender is to make a gain from the lending, of course. This gain is a transfer of value from the borrower to the lender through interest payments. However, if the borrower defaults on the debt before the loaned amount is paid off at least, its actually the borrower who will have made a gain and the lender will have made a loss. In either case, not everyone loses. Both lenders and borrowers whoever the loser and gainer from the redistribution of funds is at the end are part of this society.

    “Regardless what “you:” have made on the markets since that time, the net for “us” is a loss.”

    This again raises the question who this ominous “us” is. As I just said, both gainers and losers in this are part of this society. If you mean with “us” the part of the society that lost, OK, but then it’s not “all” anymore.

    “BTW: unless you’ve cashed out and taken profits, you haven’t “made” any money, yet.”

    Well, I have been cashing out all the time. Accordingly, the government will get its share through my tax payments on the financial gains.


  32. MorticiaA says:

    No, we DON’T know Barry leans left. I’ve seen him call out Democrats — the POTUS included — for plenty.

  33. Graphite says:


    Thanks for your reply to my post. A couple quick comments:

    What percentage of mortgages did Fannie Mae underwrite that were zero down payment? Or how about no income check? No credit check? What % were Option arms? Negative Amortization? Piggy Back 2nds? How many were sub-prime?

    I would submit that the *much* more important question is simply, how many mortgages did Fannie Mae underwrite against bubble housing values that were blown way out of proportion with incomes? What percentage of the now-underwater mortgages did they underwrite? All the subprime and drecky mortgages you cite were only the weakest tip of a very large iceberg. Since they were the first to crumble, a lot of people seem to think they were the lion’s share of the bad lending which led to the crisis. We shall see; for my part, I think “we’re all subprime now” and will start seeing defaults on prime paper if housing values fail to recover soon.

    From 1995 to 2005, what percentage of mortgages that Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac purchased went belly up?

    We don’t know yet. These mortgages won’t be fully paid until 2015-2025. Maybe we should wait until all the cyclical returns are in.

    And a final question: If Fannie Mae dissolved in the year 2000, would the crisis have occurred anyway?

    Yes. A deflationary depression was already baked into the cake by 2000, which was avoided only by a massive shoving of bad credit by banks into the global monetary system, aided by the government’s engines of credit (like FNM/FRE and the Federal Reserve) and its lifting of leverage limits. Dissolving Fannie/Freddie then probably would have slowed credit growth enough (to say nothing of its impact on housing prices) that deflationary credit contraction would have taken hold in 2001 instead of 2008. This actually would have been a good thing, as the credit bubble was much smaller and more manageable then than it is today.

  34. Graphite says:

    We don’t know yet. These mortgages won’t be fully paid until 2015-2025. Maybe we should wait until all the cyclical returns are in.

    Sorry, make that 2025-2035 ….

  35. Joe Friday says:

    Barry Ritholtz queried:

    “From 1995 to 2005, what percentage of mortgages that Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac purchased went belly up? How about from 2005 forward? How does this compare to the rest of the mortgage industry?”

    * In 1999, the year many critics charge that the Clinton administration pressured Fannie and Freddie, the private sector sold into the secondary market just 18 percent of all mortgages.

    * Between 2004 and 2006, when subprime lending was exploding, Fannie and Freddie went from holding a high of 48 percent of the subprime loans that were sold into the secondary market to holding about 24 percent, according to data from Inside Mortgage Finance, a specialty publication. One reason is that Fannie and Freddie were subject to tougher standards than many of the unregulated players in the private sector who weakened lending standards, most of whom have gone bankrupt or are now in deep trouble.

    During those same explosive three years, private investment banks – not Fannie and Freddie – dominated the mortgage loans that were packaged and sold into the secondary mortgage market. In 2005 and 2006, the private sector securitized almost two thirds of all U.S. mortgages, supplanting Fannie and Freddie, according to a number of specialty publications that track this data.

    * Federal housing data reveal that … the private sector, not the government or government-backed companies, was behind the soaring subprime lending at the core of the crisis.

    Federal Reserve Board data shows that:

    * More than 84 percent of the subprime mortgages in 2006 were issued by private lending institutions.

    * Private firms made nearly 83 percent of the subprime loans to low- and moderate-income borrowers that year.

    * Only one of the top 25 subprime lenders in 2006 was directly subject to the housing law that’s being lambasted by conservative critics.