The Housing Bubble and the Limits of Human Knowledge

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac lost an aggregate $246 billion during the shriveling of the great American housing bubble. They lost all the profits they had made since 1971 plus another $140 billion — quite a performance. The government rushed in to rescue Fannie and Freddie’s creditors with $187 billion of taxpayers’ money, to bring their capital up to zero: this means that ordinary Americans are being taxed so that foreign and domestic bondholders get back every penny they lent Fannie and Freddie.

The reality of the government guaranty of the debt of these “government-sponsored enterprises” (GSE) has thereby been unambiguously demonstrated. Senior government officials previously denied that the government was on the hook for Fannie and Freddie (presumably thinking that their denial would never be tested by events — a bad theory).

What financial shape were Fannie and Freddie in as the crisis proceeded? How bad would the effects of the shriveling bubble be? How much can you trust the word of government officials? How much about the financial future can central bankers or anybody know? Consider the lessons of the following 10 quotations:

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