EDITORIAL: Lots of Us to Blame In Financial Debacle
Whom do we blame for this economic mess? Republicans, for legitimizing greed and deregulation? Or Democrats, for pressuring banks to lend in low-income neighborhoods?
And there are plenty of other guilty parties to point a finger at -- including millions of us, for contributing to a get-rich-quick atmosphere that encouraged so many of our supposedly responsible institutions, governmental and private, to let go of the reins and rush headlong off the deep end.
That is made abundantly clear in an article in the current issue of Time, called "25 People to Blame." Besides a number of specific suspects who may end up in jail, the magazine says, there are also "culprits who committed no crime, bankers and builders and prophets and presidents -- and the face in the mirror."
Time attached chunks of text to computer-assembled photos of a long line of malefactors standing in a police lineup. Some of the 25 you've heard of, some not.
Both Bush, Clinton Included
Politically, it's an equal-opportunity rogue's gallery. Our two most recent presidents are both included, though neither places very high in this Hall of Shame.
George W. Bush is No. 14, mostly because "the meltdown happened on his watch." Though he's given credit for pushing for tighter controls over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, he also "embraced deregulation and allowed federal oversight agencies to ease off on banks and mortgage brokers."
Bill Clinton lands in 13th place for things like signing legislation to exempt those toxic credit-default swaps from regulation and loosening housing rules to make it easier for those with low incomes to get home loans. (But Republican commentators go way off into la-la land when they attempt to hang the whole sorry disaster, which came to a head nearly eight years after Clinton left office, around his neck.)
No. 1 on the list is someone most of us probably never heard of. His name is Angelo Mozilo, and he looks like something out of "The Godfather." The son of a butcher, Mozilo co-founded Countrywide Financial and drove it into the stratosphere on the rocket fuel of high-risk mortgage packages, then unloaded it on Bank of America, pocketing billions.
All Out of Bubbles
Nos. 2, 3 and 4 are former Sen. Phil Gramm, former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan and former Securities and Exchange Commission chief Chris Cox. All three played leading roles in removing controls on questionable derivatives like credit-default swaps, or naively assuming financial firms could regulate themselves, or failing to enforce such regulations as there were.
And who comes in at No. 5? None other than "American Consumers," whose addiction to living far beyond their means pushed household debt from about 60 percent of income in 1982 to 130 percent in 2007.
"We've been borrowing, borrowing, borrowing," Time says, "living off and believing in the wealth effect -- first in stocks, which ended badly, then in real estate, which has ended even worse. Now we're out of bubbles."
Besides too-fast shortcuts to riches and too-easy solutions to every problem, we as a society are also out of convenient bogeymen (usually in the opposite party) to lay all the fault on. Yes, there are individuals all around who have a lot to answer for. But it's only fair to take another searching look at that "face in the mirror."
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