Finished my stay in Tambov and am headed back to Moscow on overnight train. I will post pictures and details of trip tomorrow.
I am also plan on further exploring the theme that the financial crisis is the result of "the promotion of deregulation and aggressive, expanded lending to forestall insolvency." Basically, what happened in savings and loan crisis thirty years ago happened to the entire US financial system.
Basically, the idea is that the government's desire to "forestall insolvency" of financial institutions (avoiding expensive FDIC takeovers) has been the driving force behind deregulation, market manipulation, ignoring problem institutions, etc...
The S&L; crisis
The recession also significantly worsened a crisis in the savings and loan industry.
In 1980, there were approximately 4,590 state- and federally-chartered savings and loan institutions (S&Ls;) with total assets of $616 billion. Beginning in 1979, S&Ls; began losing money due to spiraling interest rates. Net S&L; income, which totaled $781 million in 1980, fell to a loss of $4.6 billion in 1981 and a loss of $4.1 billion in 1982. Tangible net worth for the entire S&L; industry was virtually zero.
The Federal Home Loan Bank Board (FHLBB) regulated and inspected S&Ls;, and administered the Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corporation (FSLIC), which insured deposits at S&Ls.; But the FHLBB's enforcement practices were significantly weaker than those of other federal banking agencies. Until the 1980s, savings and loans had limited lending powers. The FHLBB was, therefore, a relatively small agency overseeing a quiet, stable industry. Accordingly, the FHLBB's procedures and staff were inadequate to supervise S&Ls; after deregulation gave the financial institutions a broad array of new lending powers. Additionally, the FHLBB was unable to add to its staff because of stringent limits on the number of personnel it could hire and the level of compensation it could offer. These limitations were placed on the agency by the Office of Management and Budget, and were routinely subject to the political whims of that agency and political appointees in the Executive Office of the President. In financial circles, the FHLBB and FSLIC were called "the doormats of financial regulation."
Because of its weak enforcement powers, the FHLBB and FSLIC rarely forced S&Ls; to correct poor financial practices. The FHLBB relied heavily on its persuasive powers and the states to enforce banking regulations. With only five enforcement lawyers, the FHLBB was in a poor position to enforce the law even had it wanted to.
One consequence of the FHLBB's lack of enforcement abilities was the promotion of deregulation and aggressive, expanded lending to forestall insolvency. In November 1980, the FHLBB lowered net worth requirements for federally-insured S&Ls; from 5% of deposits to 4%. The FHLBB further lowered net worth requirements to 3% in January 1982. Additionally, the agency only required S&Ls; to meet these requirements over a 20-year period. This phase-in rule meant that S&Ls; less than 20 years old had practically no capital reserve requirements. This encouraged extensive chartering of new S&Ls;, because a $2 million investment could be leveraged into $1.3 billion in lending.
Congressional deregulation worsened the S&L; crisis. The Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981 encouraged a boom in commercial real estate building projects. The passage of DIDMCA and the Garn-St. Germain act expanded the authority of federally-chartered S&Ls; to make acquisition, development, and construction real estate loans and eliminated the statutory limit on loan-to-value ratios. These changes allowed S&Ls; to make high-risk loans to developers. Beginning in 1982, many S&Ls; rapidly shifted away from traditional home mortgage financing and into new, high-risk investment activities such as casinos, fast-food franchises, ski resorts, junk bonds, arbitrage schemes, and derivative instruments.
Federal deregulation also encouraged state legislatures to deregulate state-chartered S&Ls.; Unfortunately, many of the states which deregulated S&Ls; were also soft on supervision and enforcement. In some cases, state-chartered S&Ls; had close political ties to elected officials and state regulators, which further weakened oversight.
As the risk exposure of S&Ls; expanded, the economy slid into the recession. Soon, hundreds of S&Ls; were insolvent. Between 1980 and 1983, 118 S&Ls; with $43 billion in assets failed. The Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corporation (FSLIC), the federal agency which insured the deposits of S&Ls;, spent $3.5 billion to make depositors whole again. The FSLIC pushed mergers as a way to avoid insolvency. From 1980 to 1982, there were 493 voluntary mergers and 259 forced mergers of savings and loans overseen by the agency. Despite these failures and mergers, there were still 415 S&Ls; at the end of 1982 that were insolvent.
Federal inaction worsened the industry's problems. Responsibility for handling the S&L; crisis lay with the Cabinet Council on Economic Affairs (CCEA), an intergovernmental council located within the Executive Office of the President. At the time, the CCEA was chaired by Treasury Secretary Donald Regan. The CCEA pushed the FHLBB to refrain from re-regulating the S&L; industry, and adamantly opposed any governmental expenditures to resolve the S&L; problem. Furthermore, the Reagan administration did not want to alarm the public by closing a large number of S&Ls.; These actions significantly worsened the S&L; crisis.