April 22, 2010

The pit and pendulum

The road to hell isn't paved with macadam. With the president set to castigate Wall Street (and by extension you) for the irresponsible way in which it's conducted itself, it's wise to remember just how we got here. It wasn't industry "deregulation" no matter how hard they try and make you otherwise believe. It was the Community Reinvestment Act, begun by Jimmy Carter, and promoted by every administration since. Noble intention - create an ownership society by catering to the poor and un-lendable. If banks baulked, government officials like Janet Reno were there to not-so-subtly threaten them with sanctions for redlining. Republicans worried in 2005 about the solvency of Freddie and Fannie and took steps to tighten regulation, only to be accused of racism (surprise) by the likes of Congresswoman Maxine Waters. Barney Frank said he felt comfortable "rolling the dice" by encouraging more loans to be made to subprime applicants. And none other than then-Senator Barack Obama also opposed stricter standards and oversight.

The President's solution to irresponsible behavior seems to be - more irresponsible behavior. Massive government spending and a new financial services overhaul bill that actually encourages more bank bailouts wouldn't be the prudent course of action to rational analysts. But after all the puffery this is exactly what the president is proposing, and browbeating Wall Street to make it happen. The public isn't buying, and Pew now pegs the public's trust in government at a record low of 22 percent. Remember all this as the president makes his "bold" speech to capitalize on populist outrage for rank political purposes that will only make the problem worse.

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