I have an even simpler query: Who and what was at fault in the entire debacle, from Housing to Credit to Collapse? In what order would you assess the blame?
I don’t mean a soft, squishy, this influenced that who then influenced that guy; I mean a hard list, from most at fault to the least, numbered from 1-20. When you think about all of the moving pieces, and start to assess blame both in absolute and relative terms, the actual blame of real bad guys becomes more obvious.
In Bailout Nation (Chapter 19), my list went something like this:
1. Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan
2. The Federal Reserve (in its role of setting monetary policy)
3. Senator Phil Gramm
4-6. Moody’s Investors Service, Standard & Poor’s, and Fitch Ratings (rating agencies)
7. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)
8-9. Mortgage originators and lending banks
11. The Federal Reserve again (in its role as bank regulator)
12. Borrowers and home buyers
13-17. The five biggest Wall Street firms (Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch,Morgan Stanley, and Goldman Sachs) and their CEOs
18. President George W. Bush
19. President Bill Clinton
20. President Ronald Reagan
21-22. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson
23-24. Treasury Secretaries Robert Rubin and Lawrence Summers
25. FOMC Chief Ben Bernanke
26. Mortgage brokers
27. Appraisers (the dishonest ones)
28. Collateralized debt obligation (CDO) managers (who produced the junk)
29. Institutional investors (pensions, insurance firms, banks, etc.) for
buying the junk
30-31. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC); Office of Thrift
32. State regulatory agencies
33. Structured investment vehicles (SIVs)/hedge funds for buying the junk
Several names were omitted for reasons of avoiding repetition: CEOs of major banks and investment firms, the Crony Boards, the AWOL Mutual funds. While the the list in chapter 19 is somewhat incomplete, the book as whole is not.
Given the elapsed time, I might today move some of these pieces around — raise or lower some a few notches. And in the editing process, some items got moved around to for layout purposes (I had Reagan below Bernanke, but due to space limitations caused by other changes, he got bumped to the Clinton line to preserve the already written index).
Regardless, I can live with the above as my list of culprits — what does your list look like?