As we've pointed out in earlier articles, scores of people knew what was going on during the subprime fiasco. But it's worth a quick review, because Robert Rubin, Alan Greenspan, Timothy Geithner, and others have been defending themselves saying, "Who could have known?".
The FBI knew ("In September 2004, the FBI began publicly warning that there was an "epidemic" of mortgage fraud, and it predicted that it would produce an economic crisis, if it were not dealt with.") The FDIC knew. ( In testimony before the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, FDIC chairman Sheila Bair confirmed that she not only warned the Fed of what was going on in 2001, but cited particular regulations (HOEPA) under which the Fed could stop the "unfair, abusive and deceptive practices" by the banks.) Also Fitch ratings knew, and even Alan Greenspan's good friend and former Fed governor Ed Gramlich knew. (Gramlich personally warned Greenspan of the surge in predatory lending that was apparent as early as 2000. Here's a bit of what Gramlich said in the Wall Street Journal:
"I would have liked the Fed to be a leader" in cracking down on predatory lending, Mr. Gramlich, now a scholar at the Urban Institute, said in an interview this past week. Knowing it would be controversial with Mr. Greenspan, whose deregulatory philosophy is well known, Mr. Gramlich broached it to him personally rather than take it to the full board. "He was opposed to it, so I didn't really pursue it," says Mr. Gramlich. (Wall Street Journal)
So, Greenspan knew, too. And, according to Elizabeth MacDonald in an article titled "Housing Red flags Ignored":
"One of the nation’s biggest mortgage industry players repeatedly warned the Federal Reserve, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and other bank regulators during the housing bubble that the U.S. faced an imminent housing crash....But bank regulators not only ignored the group's warnings, top Fed officials also went on the airwaves to say the economy was "building on a sturdy foundation" and a housing crash was "unlikely."
So, the Mortgage Insurance Companies of America [MICA] also knew. And, here's a clip from the Washington Post by former New York governor Eliot Spitzer who accused Bush of being a ‘partner in crime’ in the subprime fiasco. Spitzer says that the OCC launched “an unprecedented assault on state legislatures, as well as on state attorneys general just to make sure the looting would continue without interruption. Here's an except from Spitzer's article:
"In 2003, during the height of the predatory lending crisis....the OCC promulgated new rules that prevented states from enforcing any of their own consumer protection laws against national banks. The federal government’s actions were so egregious and so unprecedented that all 50 state attorneys general, and all 50 state banking superintendents, actively fought the new rules. (Washington Post)
So, the Fed knew, the Treasury knew, the FBI knew, the OCC knew, the FDIC knew, Bush knew, the Mortgage Insurance Companies of America knew, Fitch ratings knew, all the states Attorneys General knew, and thousands, of traders, lenders, ratings agency executives, bankers, hedge fund managers, private equity bosses, regulators knew. Everyone knew, except the unlucky people who were victimized in the biggest looting operation of all time.
Once again, looking for conspiracy, just diverts attention from the nature of the crime itself. Here's a statement from former regulator and white collar criminologist William K. Black which helps to clarify the point:
"Fraudulent lenders produce exceptional short-term ‘profits’ through a four-part strategy: extreme growth (Ponzi), lending to uncreditworthy borrowers, extreme leverage, and minimal loss reserves. These exceptional ‘profits’ defeat regulatory restrictions and turn private market discipline perverse. The profits also allow the CEO to convert firm assets for personal benefit through seemingly normal compensation mechanisms. The short-term profits cause stock options to appreciate. Fraudulent CEOs following this strategy are guaranteed extraordinary income while minimizing risks of detection and prosecution." (William K. Black, "Epidemics of'Control Fraud' Lead to Recurrent, Intensifying Bubbles andCrises",University of Missouri at Kansas City - School of Law)
Black's definition of "control fraud" comes very close to describing what really took place during the subprime mortgage frenzy. The investment banks and other financial institutions bulked up on garbage loans and complex securities backed by dodgy mortgages so they could increase leverage and rake off large bonuses for themselves. Clearly, they knew the underlying collateral was junk, just as they knew that eventually the market would crash and millions of people would suffer.
But, while it’s true that Greenspan and Wall Street knew how the bubble-game was played; they had no intention of blowing up the whole system. They simply wanted to inflate the bubble, make their profits, and get out before the inevitable crash. But, then something went wrong. When Lehman collapsed, the entire financial system suffered a major heart attack. All of the so-called "experts" models turned out to be wrong.
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