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How Did University Degrees Become Subprime Mortgages? Part II

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If you made it to the end of my last post you will have the same question I did.
Why did Finance Companies and our ersatz Mr. Finance Company Guy arrange a mortgage for Michelle, our hypothetical mortgagee,  when he should have known quite well from experience and the numbers that she would likely be unable to pay it off?  To answer this question we have to introduce a bond trader on Wall Street in New York.  We can even give him a real name.  We can call him Howie Huble


because Howie Hubler really exists and he is the most infamous example of what was happening in the bond markets in 2008.  A bond like a mortgage and like money is a kind of IOU.  It’s a piece of paper that says someone owes someone an amount of money.  Bonds have always been considered good, solid, conservative  low-risk forms of investment.  Usually bonds were IOUs from big companies or banks or even countries, but any kind of debt can be incorporated into a bond and resold to investors.  Unless you are an investme…

How Did University Degrees Become Subprime Mortgages?

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In the wake of the Wall Street collapse and bailout in 2008, I was repeatedly tempted to present my students with a lecture on subprime mortgages.  I kept imagining the lecture I wanted to deliver but finance and economics were not my fields or a relevant subject for any of my literature classes.  Reading the prologue to Michael Lewis’s The Big Short about the nerdy outsiders who foresaw and actually made money from the collapse and learning that Meredith Whitney with her B.A. in English from Brown University was one of the first whistleblowers to accurately assess the mismanagement that was going on, I am once again feeling inspired to offer my two cents (for those of you who still know what “two cents” means).  


What follows is the lecture that I almost but never quite gave and a comparison of university degrees and subprime mortgages punctuated with confessions of ignorance which will demonstrate that you don’t need to know very much in order to understand what was going on even t…