Big Government's Big Role in the Credit Crisis

Everywhere you look, you see the fingerprints of Uncle Sam.

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"The private market screwed itself up, and they need the government to come help them unscrew it." So says Barney Frank, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee. Did Wall Street make mistakes? Absolutely. But so did our fellow Americans who took out loans that they shouldn't have.

And so did Uncle Sam. The more you look at the history of the housing-spawned credit crisis, the more you notice Uncle Sam popping up, Zelig-like, in every scene. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were government-birthed entities that decided to buy securities tied to subprime loans. And it was government officials on Capitol Hill, the recipients of millions in campaign donations from the F&F lobby, who decided not to rein in those entities. You had the government ' s Community Reinvestment Act nudging banks to make unsound loans. Government banker Alan Greenspan pushed interest rates too low for too long earlier this decade, creating an extreme financial situation that made the crazy Wall Street strategies look temporarily reasonable. And for decades, government has pushed higher homeownership as a national goal, via F&F as well as through the tax code, siphoning off resources that might have been better devoted to other economic sectors.

And now, folks like Barney Frank pretend government just showed up on the accident scene moments ago like an innocent passerby who wonders aloud, "Anyone here know what happened? Anyone?" I mean, how can we try to prevent future financial crises, or least minimize their damaging effects, if we delude ourselves on the causes of the current one?