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Louis DeBroux / September 19, 2018

Repeating the Mistakes of the 2008 Economic Crash

Some are turning back to the very policies that laid the foundation for the crisis in the first place.

“Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” —George Santayana, The Life of Reason

It is truly mind-boggling that, just a decade after one of the worst financial crises in American history, we are now turning back to the very policies that laid the foundation for the crisis in the first place.

In 1977, Democrats in Congress passed, and President Jimmy Carter signed, the Community Reinvestment Act. The law coerced lending institutions to abandon the long-held practice of basing loans on the ability of the borrower to repay, essentially demanding lending institutions issue these “sub-prime” loans to virtually anyone who applied.

In 1995, Democrat President Bill Clinton renewed and expanded the CRA. In order to assuage the fears of lending institutions that were now at significantly higher risk of losses due to loan defaults, the federal government, through government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, offered implicit guarantees of taxpayer-funded bailouts if borrowers defaulted. This created a perverse incentive for lenders because they could either continue to be fiscally responsible and carefully manage risk (and have the government punish them for lending discrimination), or they could make risky loans, pocket the profits, and have losses covered by taxpayers.

In 2005, the House Financial Services Committee Chairman, Democrat Rep. Barney Frank, dismissed what he called an “excessive degree of concern” by Republicans regarding the growing housing bubble, declaring he wanted to “roll the dice a little bit more in this situation.” Other Democrats, including Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Maxine Waters, vehemently argued against reining in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s reckless lending policies.

Even Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez would have been able to figure out what would happen next.

Lending institutions began writing sub-prime loans in bulk. Investment banks bought up these loans and packaged them as Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities, and sold them to investors. This drove a massive boom in the housing market, driving up prices far above the home’s actual value, stoked by easy money policies.

This created a domino effect driving risky speculation, and eventually the bubble burst — with devastating results. Lehman Brothers, one of the nation’s largest financial institutions, went bankrupt. Firms like Merrill Lynch and AIG, as well as GSEs Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, required hundreds of billions of dollars in taxpayer bailouts to remain afloat.

Almost overnight, tens of millions of Americans discovered their homes were worth a fraction of what they paid for them, and their retirement portfolios had been devastated. No longer able to afford their mortgages, and unable to come close to breaking even if they sold their homes, many Americans simply walked away.

In the aftermath, the architects of the disastrous financial crisis were, unbelievably, placed in charge of the recovery process. Tim “Turbo Tax” Geithner, president of the New York Fed from 2003-2009, became Barack Obama’s Treasury secretary. Rep. Barney Frank, whose previous dice-rolling played a direct role in the financial meltdown, co-wrote the Dodd-Frank financial regulatory reform bill that, in direct contradiction to Democrat claims, actually made “too big to fail” bailouts a matter of law.

In retrospect (and, as many conservatives at the time argued), it’s obvious the bailouts simply prolonged the suffering. Rather than allowing these institutions to go through managed bankruptcies and suffer the consequences of their reckless, extremely risky investment decisions, the taxpayers, who bore no responsibility, nevertheless were forced to take a massive hit to their wallets to bail out these politically connected banks and investment firms.

Even more infuriating is the fact that these bailed-out banks — including CitiGroup, Bank of America, and Merrill Lynch — paid out more than $11 billion in bonuses in 2008, long before the dust cleared from the rubble that remained of the U.S. economy.

Obama eventually claimed taxpayers had not only been paid back, but that TARP (the Troubled Asset Relief Program, which bought up these toxic assets) had actually turned a profit for taxpayers. Unfortunately, that claim is nothing more than a rhetorical and accounting sleight of hand.

Though millions of Americans never fully recovered from the financial disaster, some politicians and bank executives failed to learn the lessons of the meltdown and are returning to the policies that caused it in the first place.

Wells Fargo, still trying to regain the public trust following revelations that bank employees created millions of fraudulent checking and savings accounts on behalf of customers without their knowledge or consent, is wading back into the sewer of sub-prime mortgages. Unbelievably, this announcement comes just weeks after Wells Fargo paid a $2 billion fine for its role in the 2008 financial crisis.

Despite the Justice Department’s report finding Wells Fargo urged its underwriters to “to take more chances, and be more aggressive, in approving loans that were outside of Wells Fargo’s underwriting guidelines,” CEO Tim Sloan is working with non-bank lenders to package sub-prime loans in “mass capacity” and sell to investors.

Comedian Will Rogers once quipped, “Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.”

Apparently, we haven’t had enough experience yet.

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