May 27th, 2011
03:33 AM GMT
There have been many books written about the financial crisis: What caused it, who’s to blame and how it could have – and should have – been prevented.
This new one, “Reckless Endangerment: How Outsized Ambition, Greed and Corruption Led to Economic Armageddon,” lives up to its lengthy title and gets deep into the weeds of who did what, when and how. In short, Gretchen Morgenson and Joshua Rosner name names and connect the dots.
Singled out for particular criticism, James Johnson, former CEO of Fannie Mae, who the authors say built the U.S. backer of mortgages into “the largest and most powerful financial institution in the world.” And that’s not a good thing—not in this case. The authors paint a painstaking portrait of the way they allege Johnson, and so many others, used money and political influence to get around the rules, get rich, and create a catastrophe.
Fannie Mae was not a lender, nor was it a bank. The U.S. government created the institution in the 1930s to steady the housing market in times of crisis, especially if bank money became unavailable for mortgages. However, Fannie Mae became something else, a behemoth charged with keeping the mortgage market flush with capital by purchasing mortgages made by banks, or by guaranteeing them, allowing banks to go out and lend even more.
But Morgenson and Rosner say Fannie Mae cheated on its accounting, paid huge bonuses to its executives and political friends, and encouraged the absurdly risky financial practices that led to the meltdown.
I interviewed the authors on World Business today, and asked them to link it all up for us: From the mortgage industry to the financial “enablers” such as Goldman Sachs, Morgenson and Rosner describe a perfect storm.
What’s new in this? Well it’s true, we already know the housing bubble sparked the U.S. crisis, but in this book you’ll learn who allegedly did what. You’ll understand the sycophantic relationship between the large investment houses and the mortgage backers. The authors identify powerful people and include startling detail about their alleged involvement. Many of them, the authors say, continue to hold power in crucial places.
It’s yet another chapter in the horror story of the aftermath of the financial crisis. Most of us can only read this stuff and shake our heads—again and again.
And know that the only certain this is this: It could all easily happen again.
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