Who Caused the Gigantic International Financial Krakatoa?

New York magazine has been hosting IM (in a loose sense) conversations for the last week or so on the election, the economy, and politics in general. None of them come close to the hilarity found in this conversation between Byron York of National Review and Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone.

It's worth reading the whole thing, but this portion of the exchange is one of the highlights:

M.T.: What a surprise that you mention Franklin Raines. Do you even know how a CDS works? Can you explain your conception of how these derivatives work? Because I get the feeling you don't understand. Or do you actually think that it was a few tiny homeowner defaults that sank gigantic companies like AIG and Lehman and Bear Stearns? Explain to me how these default swaps work, I'm interested to hear.

Because what we're talking about here is the difference between one homeowner defaulting and forty, four hundred, four thousand traders betting back and forth on the viability of his loan. Which do you think has a bigger effect on the economy?

B.Y.: Are you suggesting that critics of Fannie and Freddie are talking about the default of a single homeowner?

M.T.: No. That is what you call a figure of speech. I'm saying that you're talking about individual homeowners defaulting. But these massive companies aren't going under because of individual homeowner defaults. They're going under because of the myriad derivatives trades that go on in connection with each piece of debt, whether it be a homeowner loan or a corporate bond. I'm still waiting to hear what your idea is of how these trades work. I'm guessing you've never even heard of them.

I mean really. You honestly think a company like AIG tanks because a bunch of minorities couldn't pay off their mortgages?

B.Y.: When you refer to "Phil Gramm's Commodities Future Modernization Act," are you referring to S.3283, co-sponsored by Gramm, along with Senators Tom Harkin and Tim Johnson?

M.T.: In point of fact I'm talking about the 262-page amendment Gramm tacked on to that bill that deregulated the trade of credit default swaps.

Tick tick tick. Hilarious sitting here while you frantically search the Internet to learn about the cause of the financial crisis — in the middle of a live chat interview.

1 comment:

Grendel said...

That is brilliant -- I love the "that is what you call a figure of speech" and "I'm still waiting to hear what your idea is of how these trades work. I'm guessing you've never even heard of them. "

I read the whole thing and then clicked to read the one from the day before and the day before that and... they're all snappy, insider-y stuff. Thanks, Trev.