20 Sep 2008

Always the Unforseen

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Investors Business Daily
observes that, although the left is ready to blame the subprime fiasco on an insufficiency of regulation, as lenders eliminated credit standards, government was right there encouraging their actions.

Commercial banks threw lending standards out the window in their rush to get new business. Like S&Ls of the 1980s, they would have gone wild without Gramm-Leach-Bliley. Washington, if anything, egged them on, but not because of free-market dogma. Banks and mortgage brokers were pumping up the homeownership numbers in America, and politicians were eager to take credit for that.

Wall Street, meanwhile, became a victim of its own innovation. It created new classes of derivative investments that spread — and, through leverage, amplified — the risk from the subprime mortgages produced by the banks. A new multitrillion-dollar market emerged almost overnight, lacking in transparency and reliable price signals. With their asset values in doubt, investment banks lurched toward insolvency.

If regulators failed here, it wasn’t because of policies adopted years before. It was more of the same story that has played itself out over and over in modern finance: Innovation races ahead of the rules. Crises tend to take almost everyone by surprise — including the major players as well as the regulators.

Read the whole thing.

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