8/14/11: August and the Economy Part 2 – Perspectives from Two Men Who Would Be President

So it’s not every day you get to sit down with a bona fide presidential candidate face to face and ask whatever you want.  In our case, we got to do it TWICE in one day!  Very fun.

Now whatever you political bent, the issue isn’t what YOU think SHOULD happen.  What we’re interested in is what the people who will be shaping the debate, if not actually running the show in 2013, are thinking.

Our two guests happen to be Republican candidates, so if you’re on the other side of the fence, just hold your nose and listen anyway.  The more info you have, the better you’ll be able to invest.  Again, you don’t have to agree, you just need to understand the possibilities.  And if you know a Democratic candidate who wants to be on the show, let us know!  All viewpoints are welcome. 🙂

Behind the illustrious silver microphones in our spacious, upscale mobile studio (including folding chairs and table):

  • Your presidential host, Robert Helms
  • Your vice-presidential co-host, Russell Gray
  • Special Guest, Director of Economic Research for the Reason Foundation, Anthony Randazzo
  • Special Guest, Two Term Governor of New Mexico and current Presidential Candidate, Gary Johnson
  • Special Guest, Businessman and Presidential Candidate, Herman Cain

When you’re an elected official, you have a bazillion thinks to think about.  And you need a lot of help thinking.  It’s kind of like being a busy real estate investor.  You need to have a team of people who stay on top of changes in landlord law, taxes, mortgage guidelines, credit scoring, asset protection and estate planning – just to name a few!

So we kick off this show talking to Anthony Randazzo, a big brain whose job it is to study, think and advise on economic matters.  One of the things Anthony studies are GSEs (Government Sponsored Enterprises, like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac).

If you’ve been paying attention, you know that Fannie and Freddie play a major role in U.S. housing (and the bond markets), were very much at the center of the mortgage meltdown, and have lots of people in Washington who’d like to see them go away. Kind of like how Ron Paul wants the Fed to go away.  It may never happen, but if it did it would change a lot things we take for granted as real estate investors.  So, it’s important to pay attention to what the big brains and the politicians (not that the two are mutually exclusive :-)) have to say.

Then we talked to Gary Johnson and Herman Cain.  We won’t paraphrase those conversations here, but you can be sure we asked about jobs and real estate.  And of course, we asked what they thought needed to happen to create more jobs. And unlike many shows, we let them talk.  We found it very interesting and we think you will too!

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The Mortgage Meltdown and Healthcare

What do these two topics have to do with each other?  Well, certainly after the mortgage meltdown the US economy is in need of health care.  Not reform.  Just getting healthy!  But that’s not the topic of this post.  Instead the question is: What lessons from the mortgage meltdown can be applied to the health care debate?  And, as a real estate investor, why should you care?

Without going into an extensive history lesson, here’s a quick recap of the mortgage meltdown:

  1. Government decides to “help” the free market for mortgages by establishing Fannie and Freddie to buy mortgages in the secondary market.
  2. Assured of a buyer for their mortgages, mortgage originators aggressively market them.  They sell it silly.  People buy houses. Values go up and more people buy. Equity happens and life is good.
  3. Private industry sees opportunity and wants to play, but find themselves competing against the “Government Sponsored Enterprises” (GSE’s) Fannie and Freddie.  Mortgage rates are dictated by risk and the implied government guarantee of Fannie and Freddie means mortgages that “conform) (i.e., conforming loans) are cheaper than private industry.  Of course, the consumer will buy the cheaper loan.
  4. Private industry expands into “non-conforming” (i.e. Jumbo, sub-prime, etc) in order to be in the mortgage business without having to compete directly with the GSE’s.  They make money.
  5. In 1999, the Clinton Administration says, “Fannie and Freddie, you need to make it even easier for people to get home loans”, which is code for “lower your standards”.  Fannie and Freddie comply.
  6. Home ownership surges under George W. Bush.  He’s an economic genius.  Home values soar.  Private industry says, “I want some more!” and recruits foreign investors to plow money into “super safe” mortgage backed securities.  The money is directed at sub-prime, alt-a, investors, jumbo, etc.  Now equity is REALLY happening!
  7. Reality sets in.  People who shouldn’t have gotten loans do what people who shouldn’t have gotten loans do: they default.  The sub-prime crisis sets off a chain reaction of well chronicled events that set off The Great Recession.  As a result, the private mortgage business is almost wiped out.  Fannie and Freddie survive on the backs of the taxpayers (the working private sector).

Obviously, there’s a lot more to the story, but what are the lessons?  Here are two of the most important ones:

1. In a capitalistic society, the objective of enterprise is to make a profit.    It’s what motivates the brightest people to work hard and sacrifice to create solutions to society’s problems – solutions that can be sold for a profit.  Profits are what allow people to pay taxes, give to charity, invest in product development and new enterprises that create jobs and enrich society. Profits are not evil, they are essential.

2. When the government, though well intentioned (giving it the benefit of the doubt) enters into competition with private industry, with the goal of making a product or service “more affordable”  (code for reducing or eliminating those evil profits), the result is a) private industry is crushed, taking its jobs with it; or b) private industry is forced to compromise sound business practice in order to survive (like loaning money to people who can’t afford to pay it back) and eventually those unsound business practices result in failure – and the loss of jobs.

And the correlation to healthcare?

The President of the United States has gone on record as stating that one of the “benefits” of a public option is to create a health care insurance program “without a profit motive” to compete with private industry.  When you follow that thought track to its logical conclusion, does anyone see a train wreck?

When you think about how big the health care industry is, you can imagine how many private sector jobs would be lost if it were to melt down too.  And since the private sector economy is the one that pays 100% of the taxes, the smaller it gets, the larger the tax burden will be on those who remain.

Loss of private sector jobs and higher taxes have a DIRECT impact on your real estate investments. When more private sector capital is sucked into government, there is less of it available for private purposes. And what is available becomes more expensive (higher interest rates).

So even though “homes and healthcare for all” are noble and compassionate causes that everyone can support, the methodology of undermining the private sector to accomplish them is counterproductive in the long term IF one is operating in a CAPITALISTIC society.

There is no debate about whether we all want people to have homes, healthcare and abundance.  We all want that.  The debate is whether or not we are committed to capitalism.  If we are (and you should be as a real estate investor), then the solution will be found in the private sector as entrepreneurs work every day in their “enlightened self-interest” to invent, build and sell homes, health insurance, health services and whatever other products or services enhance the human experience.

Diesel engines run great on diesel fuel. Regular gas engines run great on regular gas.  But when you put diesel fuel in a regular gas engine or vice versa, it might run for a little while, but it won’t run well.  Eventually, it will break down and not work at all.

Until someone re-writes the Constitution of the United States, the US is a capitalistic society.  Let’s be careful about injecting incompatible “fuel” no matter how noble the motive.