Who Caused the Financial Crisis?

In a Washington Post article, Eric D. Hovde describes how the greed of Wall Street and their political action committee contributions to elected officials in Washington created the financial crisis.

Link: Calling Out the Culprits Who Caused the Crisis – washingtonpost.com.

…because of the actions of the investment banks, the mortgage industry and the rating agencies, the investment community has now incurred an estimated $1 trillion and more in losses. Even more troubling, housing prices have dropped 20 percent from their July 2006 highs, with the very real likelihood that housing could contract another 15 to 20 percent — essentially wiping out more than $4 trillion in housing values. This would be the biggest hit since the Depression to Americans’ most important asset.

What is even more remarkable is that at the same time, firms such as Goldman Sachs and Lehman not only made billions of dollars packaging and selling these toxic loans, they also wagered with their own capital that the values of these investments would decline, further raising their profits. If any other industries engaged in such knowingly unscrupulous activities, there would be an immediate federal investigation.

Why is Washington so complicit in this intricate and lucrative affair? First, the Fed laid the groundwork for both these asset bubbles by lowering interest rates to historic lows. In an attempt to protect his legacy after the Internet-bubble collapse, Greenspan provided unprecedented stimulus to re-inflate the economy and maintain his popularity with Wall Street. (Remember the "Greenspan put"?) But in doing so, he spawned the largest debt and asset bubble in U.S. history.

At the same time, federal regulatory agencies such as the SEC stood idly by as Wall Street took advantage of the investment public during both the Internet and the housing bubbles. The SEC took almost no action against Wall Street after the dot-com implosion. And in the midst of the housing bubble, in 2006, only the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency pushed for any level of regulation to address subprime lending.

One has to wonder why Treasury secretaries under Presidents Clinton and Bush — Robert Rubin and Hank Paulson, respectively — took no action to curb these abuses. It certainly was not because they did not understand Wall Street’s practices — both are former chief executives of Goldman Sachs. And why has Congress been so silent? The Wall Street investment banking firms, their executives, their families and their political action committees contribute more to U.S. Senate and House campaigns than any other industry in America. By sprinkling some of its massive gains into the pockets of our elected officials, Wall Street bought itself protection from any tough government enforcement.

This is no doubt the same reason why so many members of Congress were consistently blocking attempts to reform and downsize Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which are essentially giant, undercapitalized hedge funds. These two entities have been huge money machines for Democrats in both the House and the Senate, many of whom recently had the gall to ask why these companies hadn’t been reformed in the past. Nor should several Republican congressmen and Senators who likewise contributed to watering down legislation aimed at reforming these institutions be let off the hook.

Wall Street’s actions are now profoundly hurting American families, communities and the entire U.S. financial system. People are being thrown out of their homes. Once seemingly indestructible financial entities are succumbing to the crisis they have created and have jeopardized the stability of the global financial system. Isn’t it ironic that the same firms that preached free-market capitalism are now the ones begging for a taxpayer bailout? Many investment professionals operating in my world believe, as do I, that we are facing the greatest financial crisis since 1929.

Fortunately, today we have safety nets, such as federal deposit insurance, that were non-existent during the Great Depression. Yet there has not been a time since the 1920s when Wall Street has enjoyed as much influence over Washington as it has for the last 12 years. Let’s hope that this influence fades rapidly — and that this financial crisis doesn’t end the same way as the one of nearly 80 years ago.

via Chris Kliemt