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Greed Is Good

Greed Is Good

For the last eighteen months or so, the financial markets have been in turmoil. The credit mess is affecting everybody in one way or another.

Starting in 2002 the real-estate market was going through the roof and the prices became unrealistic to say the least; whatever house you might have bought a few years earlier for about 300,000 dollars was by the summer of 2007 way over 1,000,000. Most people could not afford to buy at such prices, but they were buying anyway. Financing was easy; in fact, it was so easy that anyone with a minimum of common sense should have wondered.

Banks were throwing money at people with less than decent credit and less than adequate income. It was a game and everyone got caught in it without concern for the future or the foreseeable consequences. The loans made to buyers were all adjustable and offered at an incredibly low initial price. Everybody knew one day the payments would go up, but for the moment nobody seemed to mind. More or less, everyone turned into a little scarlet and the “I will think about this tomorrow” philosophy swiped the country. The price of real-estate was growing so fast that the prospective of getting charged more tomorrow for the money borrowed today seemed to be distant.

Tomorrow came, all of a sudden, in the fall of 2007.

As the loans reached the adjustment point, most people could not keep up with the new payments and an avalanche of defaults started to hit the market. Regular people were in deep trouble and so were the banks.

Banks do not like to own property. Their business is to manipulate cash that could be turned into profits; the faster, the better.

The inevitable foreclosures could not be stopped by wishful thinking alone and thousands of “for sale” signs went up.

Many properties have been bought by developers and real-estate sharks just for speculation; they were the ones that drove the prices up to such unreasonable levels leaving many legitimate buyers in the dust.

Plenty of houses were bought as a primary residence by regular people eager to finally own rather than rent; some were first time buyers, many were less than sophisticated and mostly minorities, but most everyone proved to be greedy and financially irresponsible.

Before signing their name and their lives on the dotted line of a loan application, all those buyers considered only what was to be the monthly payment.

The way the payments were structured made them extremely attractive and often cheaper than regular rent for a less desirable house so, without looking at the details and without taking into account future price increase, getting into the real-estate game made perfect sense. The day when it came time to readjust the mortgages to the new interest rates a cyclone hit the market.

Some families just abandoned the homes they had lived in for the past few years. Most of those families did not purchase their houses using a regular down payment, as was historically done, so they had less of a problem packing up and moving out. For many others foreclosure was an unexpected disaster.

The cruel reality was for all legitimate buyers a heartbreaking experience; it meant giving up “the American dream”.

The dream of owning a home was turning into a nightmare. The devastating effects of the housing crisis has triggered worldwide reaction and pushed the American economy over the edge into recession. For John McCain to say that what is happening to millions of regular people is just “collective panic” and unfounded “public hysteria” is just one more proof of the fantasy world he is living in.

The blame is to be equally shared by many; homeowners are at fault for being naïve and not taking into consideration future financial obligations, loan officers are at fault for being unscrupulous and qualifying people who did not meet any of the basic requirements, and the banks are at fault for selling loans they should have known were more than risky.

In reality everyone was motivated by greed. “Greed is good” according to the Wall Street philosophy. As long as money keeps on moving, as long as commissions are being paid, as long as the charade of prosperity is going on, everybody is happy and nobody cares.

The dubious loans made by the banks were being sold on Wall Street to foreign investors. America itself was being sold, but since real-estate wealth seemed to be endless, nobody paid much attention.

For as long as things were looking up and the due day for payment, and taking responsibility was still far, everybody enjoyed an illusive prosperity. When the bubble finally burst it hit hard. Banks lost billions of dollars in bad loans and the survival of many is still questionable. Wall Street panicked and some financial institution lost 80 percent of their value in a matter of days. Some of the most reputable banks went under and others are fighting for survival. In an attempt to minimize the consequences affecting the global economy, the government took unprecedented measures and lowered the interest rates again and again.

The credit crunch and the ordeal that followed only proved further that: “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge, has marked the upward of mankind.”—From the movie Wall Street, 87 by Oliver Stone

How good is greed?

Before answering the question we shall see how the actual real-estate crisis resolves itself. An old proverb says, “A poor man is not the one who has little, but the one who never has enough.”