Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Uncle Sam & The Giant Pool of Money (A Mystery)

I'm not stupid about money. Among other things, I did a lot a stints as a temp in banks. Which sounds superficial, except one of those stints included nine months as the residential mortgage customer service person. I was the person you called if you had a question about your mortgage. If you wanted to know if we had received your payment. If you wanted to know how to get your late spouse's name off your mortgage because they were dead and you wanted to remarry and it felt weird. If you were in foreclosure and you wanted to know what happens next. When I'm on the road, I read The Wall Street Journal. No cover to cover, but still.

But like most people I didn't understand what it was that Wall Street was doing that got us in such freakin' trouble. Venturesome pointed me to the This American Life broadcast The Giant Pool of Money.

It's fascinating. It brings a lot of clarity to a complex issue. You don't have to know anything about the stock market or really anything about mortgages.

It's nice to know. This American Life has always been one of the coolest things ever. And this is one of the coolest things they've ever done.


Blogger Maureen McHugh said...

Of course, this has been all over the internet. But I just found it, so to me it's new.

October 21, 2008 1:45 PM  
Blogger Austin Kleon said...

Dig also the followup: "Another Frightening Show About the Economy"

The thing I loved about the first show was it human drama: a man wants to buy a house for his family, another man goes from sitting in a bar to clearing $14,000 a month, another man sips Crystal next to celebrities...that show was about humans trying to reach beyond their means.

The follow-up show is just about f***ed up abstract economic things, like people taking out insurance on stock they don't even own. Less understandable, more frightening.

October 21, 2008 4:29 PM  
Blogger Maureen McHugh said...

I listened to the follow-up, of course, which did explain a lot. But yes, the first show was better art. The second show was more frightening but less compelling.

October 21, 2008 6:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I found this show very interesting and yes, the human element really draws you into the show. Wall Street is a fascinating place, but it's scary how much it can affect even those who don't own stocks.

I'm curious, Maureen, what's your take on the government requirement of 40% of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae loans being to low income people and how/if that has affected the mortgage crisis and also Alan Greenspan's continual dropping of the interest rate in the 90's, which seemed brilliant at the time, but now it appears that Greenspan's decision may feed into the current crisis?

October 23, 2008 2:13 PM  
Blogger Maureen McHugh said...

Michelle, back when I knew anything about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which was in the early 90's, they had very stringent requirements for income. They were, in those days, not the easiest loan to get, even if you were low income. Although they were great loans if you qualified. So I never had any problem with the mandate that they assist lwo income and first time home buyers. (VA loans were a similar thing, as I remember.)

I find Alan Greenspan one of the most confusing people on earth. He was at one time associated with Ayn Rand. How he got from there to the Federal Reserve Chairman and from there to his working philosophy is beyond me.

I assume you have strong opinions about both issues?

October 23, 2008 6:21 PM  
Blogger Michelle said...

The only strong opinion I have is that I need to buy more ammo and duct tape :) No, I was just curious, since you did work in mortgages, what you thought on those two issues, if they even contributed to the problem and how, since neither one was covered in that particular American Life episode.

October 24, 2008 9:00 AM  
Blogger Erin O'Brien said...

I hadn't seen this, so thanks. Will listen post haste.

And, little missy, it's about time you updated!


October 24, 2008 10:41 AM  
Blogger Ted said...

Your comment about Greenspan and Ayn Rand reminds me of something Judith Berman said about Scooter Libby. She once attended the same aikido school as he did, and wondered how someone who subscribed to the philosophy of aikido could wind up an advocate for Bush's foreign policy.

(Although the "screw you" response that Greenspan gives in the "Giant Pool of Money" show seems very much in keeping with Randian philosophy.)

October 24, 2008 5:09 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Yes, I'd unreservedly recommend this particular episode to anyone interested in just how our economy got to this point.

October 25, 2008 2:01 PM  

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