Have nothing to do with the [evil] things that people do, things that belong to the darkness. Instead, bring them out to the light... [For] when all things are brought out into the light, then their true nature is clearly revealed...

-Ephesians 5:11-13

Tag Archives: Real Estate

3 percent down payment mortgages are back

You probably saw it on the news last night: Fannie Mae turned a profit last quarter, the first profit since the real estate bubble burst in 2007. Yahoo explains why:

Lenders are increasingly approving

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The gap between Wall Street and Main Street widens

On Thursday, the last trading day of the first quarter of 2013, the Standard and Poor’s index of 500 stocks – the S&P 500 – closed  at 1569, four points above where it traded in October, 2007, just before it plummeted to 676 in March, 2009. With that news the sigh of relief on Wall Street was nearly audible. CNNMoney gushed:

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Corrupt Former Detroit Mayor Convicted on 24 Counts of Racketeering, Fraud, Extortion and more

When it was announced on Monday that former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick (along with his father Bernard and his friend Bobby Ferguson, a general contractor) had been convicted on 24 counts of racketeering, fraud and extortion, the New York Times failed to mention that it could have been a lot worse. He might have been convicted of

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Michigan Governor Snyder Declares Detroit a Fiscal Disaster

On the surface, Friday’s announcement by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder that Detroit’s financial situation was so grievous that a special emergency financial manager (EFM) would have to be appointed to take over from the city council appeared to be the end of the line for a once great city.

A city that was once the fifth largest and wealthiest in the country, Detroit has apparently 

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The Gloomy Report from the CBO is Too Optimistic

On its face the latest report from the Congressional Budget Office is gloomy enough, but careful sifting through it reveals

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Capital Appreciation Bonds: Delaying the Inevitable

The action that California’s Napa Valley Unified School District took in 2009 is just now getting exposure and at least one board member is running for cover. Jose Hurtado, a NVUSD board member, said he stands by the deal he voted for – to borrow $29 million and put off paying it back until 2049 – but if it were a traditional mortgage, he

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Student Loan Consequences: Real, Costly and Personal

The consequences of making low-interest loans to unqualified buyers created the real estate bubble that popped in 2007, resulting in the Great Recession. According to Gary Jason at the American Thinker, it’s about to happen again only this time over student loans. He wrote: “This bubble has been fueled by the federal government’s lavish subsidization of the student loan program … in a way similar to how the housing bubble was fueled by government agencies pushing subprime mortgages.”

Under the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA) signed into law as part of Obamacare in March, 2010, students may borrow money directly from the federal government regardless of their credit score or any other financial “issues” they may be facing. They are not priced according to any “individualized measure of risk” nor are the loan limits. They are instead politically determined by Congress with undergraduates receiving lower interest rates than graduate students, but graduate students allowed to borrow more than undergrads.

This forced entry by the government into what was once a private market transaction has numerous consequences, nearly all of them negative, and most of them predictable.

First, private lenders disappeared from the market as they could not compete with taxpayer funds and taxpayer guarantees and the resulting below-market interest rates that became available.

Second, the growth in the education industry expanded far beyond what was normal as college administrations saw their opportunity to dip into the “honey bucket” of federal funds, with the consequent growth in administration overhead and higher tuition fees. According to a study by Bain & Company (yes, Mitt Romney’s Bain), “operating expenses are getting higher [at major colleges and universities like Cornell, Harvard and Princeton] and they’re running out of cash to cover it.” According to that study, the growth in those colleges’ debt and rate of spending on new buildings and equipment rose far faster than did their spending on actual education itself. Said Bain,

Boards of trustees and presidents need to put their collective foot down on the growth of support and maintenance costs.

In no other industry would overhead costs be allowed to grow at this rate – executives would lose their jobs.

Thirdly, this growth in the cost of obtaining what was one a coveted possession, a college degree, makes any mathematical justification or cost-benefit analysis highly questionable. Many students are entering a job market with degrees that over qualify them for what the market is able to provide. According to Jason, “over half of all recent college grads are unemployed (or employed only at jobs not requiring a college education).”

The unnatural increase in the flow of funds into the education industry has predictably driven prices higher. As Jason Bower pointed out at The Freeman,

Since 2000, tuition at public, four-year colleges has risen by an inflation-adjusted 72 percent, and over the past 25 years it has increased at an annual rate 6 percentage points higher than the cost of living. (emphases added)

Fourth, when the deferred payments on these loans start, the newly-minted grads without work cannot make them and they go into default. In a recent Department of Education study, loan default rates have risen in each of the last five years, and at an increasing rate, now touching almost one in every seven students with a loan.

Fifth, those loans cannot be dissolved or forgiven in bankruptcy except in extreme circumstances, leaving students in “debtors’ prison” interminably. As Charles Scaliger wrote at The New American,

Inasmuch as the student borrowers are uniquely required by law to repay under [nearly] any circumstances, the student loan business is the closest thing … to debtor prison in modern society.

With such a debt burden, students are forced to make, or avoid making, life choices, such as getting married or buying a home. Who would want to take on a partner who owes tens of thousands to the federal government on the day of the wedding?

And then there is the issue of bribery and insider-dealing. Lenders found ways to entice school officials to direct students needing money to them in exchange for incentives. In addition administration officials found it profitable to support candidates willing to enhance the loan programs for the benefit of the schools. Peter Wood, executive director of the National Association of Scholars, put the matter succinctly:

 The ‘free market’ in this case was never anything close to lean and efficient. To the contrary, it was (and still is) inefficient and frequently corrupt, dominated by players who found it easy to bribe college officials, wring favors from politicians by means of campaign contributions, bilk the Department of Education, and live off generous    subsidies.

All of these consequences come from first causes: the belief that the government has the right to impose its ideological position onto students and then force taxpayers to pay for those consequences when they inevitably arrive. As Kevin Villani, former chief economist at Freddie Mac, wrote in the American Banker, the progression from ideology to practice is fraught with danger. First, he says, the government must

declare that the opportunity to … go to college, is a basic right. Then [it sets] a goal for … college attendance well above private individual demand. When budgets become tight, have government lenders replace private lenders…

This cements into place the “moral hazard” that provides government loans to students without concern about how they might be paid back, because ultimately all government promises are backed by the taxpayer.

The ultimate consequence is borne by the student himself. Once he realizes his predicament – like a lobster trap – it’s too late.

For 36-year-old Nick Keith, it’s too late.

When he decided to go to culinary school, he was persuaded that he could indulge his interest in food by learning the food service industry. The school provided him with all the answers to his questions (for which the school later was successfully sued for making false statements but far too late to help Keith), and pointed him to the sources to lend him the money. Said Keith, “I should have seen all the signs. [The campus tour guide] had a used car salesman’s answer for everything,” including the lie that 99 percent of all graduates found work after graduation. It turned out later – much later – that the real number was closer to 48 percent, and that counted graduates who had to find work outside of food service. Keith’s first job upon graduation was working on a meal assembly line, making $10 an hour.

But that’s when his student loan payment program kicked in. He had to make a choice: pay the rent, or his student loan, but not both.

It’s now nearly a decade since his graduation. His debt, with interest compounded upon interest, is $142,000, at a 17 percent interest rate. He can’t get out:

I get my groceries at the local food bank. I have sold or lost 99 percent of everything I ever owned.

He can’t get work because his bad credit turns off prospective employers. He lives in an aged minivan, relies on the Salvation Army for meals, and parks his van at highway truck stops. For all intents and purposes, he is homeless.

Solutions abound, at least in theory. The government should get out of the student loan business altogether and let the private market take over. And congress should allow students to declare bankruptcy over their loans when necessary. Even there, however, the consequences are towering. There is more than $1 trillion in student loan debt. Almost 15 percent of loans are already in default. The Department of Education would have to receive special funding from congress – the taxpayer – to be able to write off the bad loans that would result.

The costs of college education would rise to more normal, market-driven levels, no doubt keeping some qualified students away. Colleges and universities would have to make massive, perhaps draconian, cuts in their overhead. It would take years for some semblance of balance between supply and demand to return to the education industry. And changing the laws would have precious little immediate impact on people like Keith.

Restoring freedom through private markets, however, is worth the effort despite the pain. The alternative – a continuing debtors’ prison for students and a continuing of the corrupt educational cartel and its incestuous relationship with politicians – is unthinkable.






The Council on Foreign Relations Meets Herb Stein in China

English: CRH380A at Changzhou Station 中文: 在常州驻...

CRH380A at Changzhou Station 中文: 在常州驻地的CRH380A (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When the ultimate insider finally admits that something can’t go on forever, it’s remarkable. I consider the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) as the centerpiece – the pillar, the foundation stone – of international affairs. James Perloff’s The Shadows of Power, last revised in 1988, will persuade even the most jaded and skeptical about this. And Herb Stein is the economist who famously said that when something can’t continue on forever, it will stop.

It looks like Stein is right once again, and the CFR, in its mouthpiece publication Foreign Affairs, has finally recognized it.

What’s been happening in China is remarkable, breathtaking, almost incomprehensible:

For four decades, the Chinese economy has grown by between seven and ten percent each year. It is the envy of the world…

At seven percent a year, China’s economy doubles every ten years.  At ten percent it doubles every seven years.

Visitors to Beijing, Shanghai, and other major Chinese cities are quickly awed by impressive skyscrapers, glittering shopping malls, new highways, and high-speed rail lines, all of which leave the impression that China is a developed economy — or at least well on its way to becoming one.

Even in some smaller cities in inland provinces, government buildings make those in Washington and Brussels appear meager. In an area of Anhui Province that is officially designated an “impoverished county,” the government office block looks exactly like the White House, only newer and whiter. (my emphasis)

But the game is almost over. Local governments force landowners to sell their land at very low prices and then lease the land to developers at prices up to 70 times what they paid for it. It’s been very

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Three State Studies Confirm Freedom Works Best

North Dakota state quarter

North Dakota state quarter (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Each year 247 Wall St. publishes the results of its survey of all 50 states and then ranks them from top to bottom – from “best run” to “worst run.” CNBC does the same only with a more concentrated focus on the business environment in each state, and then ranks the states on their overall “measure of competitiveness.” The Mercatus Center at George Mason University looks at all 50 states from the perspective of individual freedom and then ranks the states based on its Index of Personal and Economic Freedom.

The parallels and correlations between economic and business performance and personal freedom are clear and persuasive: when state governments stay within their limits of protecting lives and enforcing contracts, the states thrive. And vice versa. North Dakota and California are examples sufficient to prove the point.

247 Wall St. admits that measuring the effectiveness of how a state government manages its affairs and allows the free market to operate is

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Self-Fulfilling Recession: Big Companies Cut Back

double dip cones

(Photo credit: mark e dyer)

There has been much talk for many months about the “second” recession facing the US economy. I’ve written about it as well, noting the prediction from ECRI last year that we were headed for a double dip. The prediction was defended again in September by ECRI.

And many have predicted, including the Congressional Budget Office, that the fiscal cliff will cause another recession.

Now, those with money to spend, have decided to cut back:

U.S. companies are scaling back investment plans at the fastest pace since the recession, signaling more trouble for the economic recovery.

Half of the nation’s 40 biggest publicly traded corporate spenders have announced plans to curtail capital expenditures this year or next, according to a review by The Wall Street Journal of securities filings and conference calls.

It’s what they’re not spending on that is unnerving: the very

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Mortgage Re-Defaults Soaring


(Photo credit: 401(K) 2012)

This headline makes nothing but sense: “Modified-Mortgage Defaults Soar 24%…”. Of course they will default…again. What has changed? You loan a deadbeat more money, that’s more money you’re not going to get back.

That’s not to characterize everyone who defaults on a mortgage as a deadbeat. I’m referring to those who received loans to buy homes that they never should have purchased in the first place because their previous credit was so bad. But in Clinton’s rush to put everyone into a home, even if they couldn’t afford it, he (with help from his friends) created a bubble.

That bubble burst in 2007, and the Fed has been trying to reinflate that bubble ever since. One of the ways is by forcing its banks to re-finance those deadbeats in order to get the bad loans off their books. It now is obvious that such an effort failed miserably. And it is likely to

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Tired of Political Yard Signs?

Obama/Biden yard sign

Obama/Biden yard sign (Photo credit: stevegarfield)

Jeffrey Tucker is tired of seeing all the political yard signs showing up in his neighborhood, and I think he makes a very good point:

I can’t understand why people are willing to give up precious real estate on their front lawns, make friends mad at them, and put their own credibility on the line to back some politico who will certainly betray them in a matter of weeks.

I live in a neighborhood where such signs are prohibited except for 3o days before an election. No commercial advertising of any kind is allowed at any time. Even pickup trucks with advertising on the doors are prohibited (they must be parked inside).

Tucker’s neighborhood has the same rules:

My neighborhood forbids commercial advertising on the front lawn, but the code makes an exception for politicians running for office. If anything, it should be the opposite. Commerce serves me every day. I feel genuine gratitude for these companies who give me great products and services, always keep their promises, and never force anything on me.

Talk about truth in advertising, and vice versa! The free market is

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Obamacare May Close Another Large Company

Westgate Resort

Westgate Resort (Photo credit: Alexis Fam Photography)

After 42 years of building an immense real estate and time share company, with 7,000 employees and revenues of $1 billion, its owner is close to giving it all up and, in his words, “calling it a day.” David Siegel, the owner of Westgate Resorts, started his company out of his garage in the early 1970s and, working full time including weekends and holidays, slowly built the company into a powerhouse which, in 2007, just before the real estate crash, employed more than 12,000 people and served more than 3 million customers a year.

So well off was the company that it embarked on projects in Las Vegas and the construction of a private home for himself that was so large that it was featured in the film The Queen of Versailles that opened in theaters in July.

But the start of the Great Recession left Siegel and his company with nearly $1 billion in debt which forced him to give back the Las Vegas project to lenders and stop work altogether on his massive 90,000-square-foot home.

Business is better now, but Siegel is nervous about the election and what it means to his company if President Obama is reelected. So he decided to send an email to his employees warning them of what he might do if Obama does win in November. In a conversation with Robert Frank of CNBC Siegel said if Obama is reelected and ObamaCare remains in place, he might just let his 7,000 employees go and shut down the company: “The combination of ObamaCare and taxes [the coming “fiscal cliff”] would be a disaster. I would probably just call it a day and that would be a disaster.”

Before doing so, however, he decided to give his employees his thinking along with a lesson in entrepreneurial economics from the point of view of

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Obama Moving to Hawaii if He Loses

English: President Barack Obama signs H.R. 847...

President Barack Obama in Kailua, Hawaii, January 2, 2011. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

According to World News Daily Obama has real estate agents working on a $35 million property in the “high rent” district in Kailua, the Beverly Hills section of Hawaii. And author Corsi thinks it’s because Obama expects to lose in November:

Very quietly, Obama’s chief financier, Penny Pritzker, has entered the Hawaii housing market to buy a retirement home for the president and his family that will be available not in 2016, but in January 2013, according to a confidential source within Pritzker’s Chicago organization.

Pritzker is a rich liberal, heiress to the Hyatt Hotels fortune, and she’s having trouble with

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A Former Fed Official Goes Rogue

CATO – The Fed’s New Round of Quantitative Easing

By introducing another program to buy MBSs [mortgage-backed securities], to the tune of $40 billion per month, the FOMC [Federal Open Market Committee, headed by Fed Chairman Bernanke] is supporting the long-standing federal policy of special aid to housing, real estate and mortgage interests.

These federal policies were the largest single contributor to the financial crisis. Why would the Federal Reserve want to encourage continuation of these federal policies?

Modern-day meeting of the Federal Open Market ...

Modern-day meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee at the Eccles Building, Washington, D.C. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My, my, the landscape does look a little different from the outside, doesn’t it, Mr. Poole?

He is about my age. He attended Swarthmore (I attended Cornell) and received a BA degree in 1959 (I got mine in 1963). He got his MBA from the University of Chicago in 1963 (I got mine in 1964, also from Cornell), and then went on to get his PhD in economics at the University of Chicago. (I didn’t. I went to work in the private sector.)

He started his career in government by working for the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors from 1964 to 1974. Then he joined the faculty at Brown University, chairing the economics department there.

Fast forward: in 1998 he served as CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, and left in 2008, and now is a Senior Fellow at Cato(!).

Somewhere along the way he got religion. I have great respect for Cato and they wouldn’t hire a fool. Nor would they bring in a Keynesian to undermine their efforts to expose that fraud unless he was an escapee from the reservation.

But listen to what Poole said:

The Federal Reserve says that it is apolitical but this decision is directly supportive of continuation of the current status of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. This action is not monetary policy but fiscal policy, extending credit to a favored industry. This policy is crony capitalism, whether practiced by the federal government or by the Federal Reserve.

This is perfect: “crony capitalism” – “extending credit to a favored industry” – “not monetary policy but fiscal policy.” Amazing!

My questions for Mr. Poole: how long did it take you to overcome your Keynesian mindset and enter the real world? Are you a “recovering Keynesian?” Are you just an opportunist? When and how did you see the light? Is there hope for others still on the reservation?

I’d sure like to know.

The Unintended Consequences of Low Interest Rates

Interest rate vs money balance

Interest rate vs money balance (Photo credit: RambergMediaImages)

Complaints from savers about low rates of return on their money have reached the business page of the New York Times. According to the Times, when Bill Taren, a retiree living near Orlando, Florida, learned that his credit union would pay just 0.4 percent interest on his savings, he decided to take the money out of the bank and put it into his mattress because, he said, “at least there we can see the cash.”

It was worse for Julie Moscove of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Over the last four years, she has watched her interest income drop from $2,000 a month to $400 a month. She said, “It’s ridiculous. I cut coupons now.”

And Dorothy Brooks has been forced to go back to work in order to supplement what’s left of her retirement income, after being retired for the last 10 years:

I got hit a couple of years ago pretty badly in the stock market, so now my savings are weighted mostly toward bonds. Now both investments are terrible. And I can’t put my money in a money-market account because that’s crazy. That just pays nothing.

Keynesian economic policies allegedly designed (and sold to the American people) to stimulate the economy are actually having the perverse effect of

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Clinton: No president could have fixed this?

Mark Murray – Clinton: No one could have restored economy to full health in 4 years

What I [Clinton] can do….is explain why I think his approach is right and it’ll pay off if we renew his contract. [What I can do is] explain why the economy he faced was much weaker and different than the one I faced, so that there’s no way any president, no president could have restored it to full health in just four years.

Bill Clinton Returns to Yale

Bill Clinton Returns to Yale (Photo credit: altopower)

This is jaw-droppingly ignorant of history, both recent and past. Some commentators have referred to Reagan’s “recovery” as one example of a rapid recovery from a recession. But that example is highly flawed. And it assumes that Reagan had anything to do with any such recovery at all. It is an argument that is flawed as well.

The economy when Jimmy Carter took over in 1976 was stagnant. Remember “stagflation” and Carter’s use of the word “malaise?” It was because of regulations, poor foreign policy decisions, and lack of certainty about the future that was holding the economy back. Inflation was eating away at people’s purchasing power, and Carter was quickly discerned to be weak and ineffective.

By 1979 inflation was running at 13 percent per year. At that rate, prices would double every four years (this is the rule of 72: divide the inflation rate into 72 and you get a doubling of the price level every 4 years.)  That was frightening.

I was operating an office in Aspen, Colorado, at the time as an investment advisor. For a brief time I had my office inside a realtor’s office and was privy to what was happening in the Aspen real estate market at the time. Some of the realtors had put together price projections of where real estate prices would be if an investor would just buy now. It didn’t matter that prices were so high – so very high – that they had little basis in reality. Don’t look back, they said. Look forward! And out would come the charts: if you bought now, you’d be rich in 10 years!

It was the classic sign of a bubble.

And then along came Paul Volcker who decided – against the wishes of many – to raise interest rates to rinse out such inflationary expectations from the economy. He knew that such increases in the price level could destroy the economy and set the country (and the banks, especially the banks) back at least one generation.

He forced interest rates to over 20 percent, and quashed those expectations. But in so doing he set the stage for an economic recovery that just happened to take place when, guess who – Reagan – happened to be in the White House.

So let’s not hear any more nonsense about how a president can’t “fix” the economy in four short years. The president can do little about the matter at all.

How Harry Reid Milks the System

Betsy Woodruff: How Did Harry Reid Get Rich?

Try this thought experiment. Imagine that someone grows up in poverty, works his way through law school by holding the night shift as a Capitol Hill policeman, and spends all but two years of his career as a public servant. Now imagine that this person’s current salary—and he’s at the top of his game—is $193,400. You probably wouldn’t expect him to have millions in stocks, bonds, and real estate.

Harry Reid - Caricature

Harry Reid – Caricature (Photo credit: DonkeyHotey)

If he’s a politician, of course you would. I remember someone saying that Lyndon Johnson went to Washington “intending to do good, and wound up doing very well indeed.” Harry Reid must have watched and learned from LBJ.

Here’s how it’s done:

In 2004, the senator made $700,000 off a land deal that was, to say the least, unorthodox. It started in 1998 when he bought a parcel of land with attorney Jay Brown, a close friend whose name has surfaced multiple times in organized-crime investigations and whom one retired FBI agent described as “always a person of interest.”

Three years after the purchase, Reid transferred his portion of the property to Patrick Lane LLC, a holding company Brown controlled. But Reid kept putting the property on his financial disclosures, and when the company sold it in 2004, he profited from the deal—a deal on land that he didn’t technically own and that had nearly tripled in value in six years.

Shinny up close to a shady character, and go along for the ride. Not close enough to be indicted, you understand, but close enough to triple your money without getting dirty. What a game!

From the article:

Here’s another example: The Los Angeles Times reported in November 2006 that when Reid became Senate majority leader he committed to making earmark reform a priority, saying he’d work to keep congressmen from using federal dollars for pet projects in their districts. It was a good idea but an odd one for the senator to espouse.

He had managed to get $18 million set aside to build a bridge across the Colorado River between Laughlin, NV, and Bullhead City, AZ, a project that wasn’t a priority for either state’s transportation agency.

His ownership of 160 acres of land nearby that stood to appreciate considerably from the project had nothing to do with the decision, according to one of his aides. The property’s value has varied since then. On his financial-disclosure forms from 2006, it was valued at $250,000 to $500,000. Open Secrets now lists it as his most valuable asset, worth $1 million to $5 million as of 2010.

It’s all about being in the right place at the right. It’s also nice if you can arrange things so that you’re in the right place at the right time.

Good job, Harry!

Economy Tipping Over Into Recession, Again

English: Yellow hard hat. Studio photography.

When shipping and supply managers were quizzed about their current outlooks by two separate reporting agencies, their answers were the same: Orders are slowing and so is production of manufactured goods. The Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI), released in late June, and the Report on Business of the Institute of Supply Management (ISM), which was released on Monday, each showed significant slowing. The PMI’s manufacturing index came in at its lowest level since last July, while new orders for durable goods (autos and appliances) fell sharply in June, continuing a trend downward since early spring. It also showed a decline in the backlog of orders, the first since last September.

According to the ISM, its index fell below 50 for the first time since July 2009, indicating continuing contraction in the manufacturing sector of the economy and echoing the PMI’s report. What was startling in the ISM’s report was the decline in new orders: down by an astonishing 12.3 percentage points in the month of June. ISM’s production index also declined severely, by 4.6 percent, and was down by 10 percent since the end of March.

Retailers’ inventories are climbing as well, indicating lack of demand by consumers. More troubling was

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American Families Lose 40% of Net Worth to Housing Bubble

The Harvey family

The release last week of the Federal Reserve’s much-anticipated three-year study of America’s finances, its Survey of Consumer Finances, confirmed what many families already know: Between 2007 and 2010 the average family’s net worth declined by nearly 40 percent, mostly because of the decline in housing prices. The Fed study also confirmed that their incomes also fell significantly in real terms, by nearly eight percent.

It was during this period that the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) dropped by more than five percent between the third quarter of 2007 and the second quarter of 2009 while unemployment jumped from 5 percent to 9.5 percent. But the seeds of the decline in net worth had been sown decades earlier as politicians, aided by the media, successfully persuaded Americans that home ownership was to be desired greatly.

By reducing interest rates, giving tax breaks on the deductibility of interest paid on home mortgages, and encouraging (some would say forcing) banks to reduce lending standards, the stage was set for

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Many of the articles on Light from the Right first appeared on either The New American or the McAlvany Intelligence Advisor.