We were blindsided. We never saw it coming.
So said Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein of the financial crisis of 2008. He likened its probability to four hurricanes hitting the East Coast in a single season.
Blankfein was reminded by the chairman of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Committee, Phil Angelides, that hurricanes are "acts of God." Financial crises are manmade. Yet Blankfein was backed up by Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan, who said, "Somehow, we just missed ... that home prices don't go up forever."
The Wall Street titans thus conceded they did not foresee the housing bubble ever bursting and they did not consider the possibility of a collapse in value of the sub-prime mortgage securities piled up on their books.
Backing up Blankfein's plea of ignorance and incomprehension is this: The crisis killed Lehman Brothers and would have killed every one of them had not the Treasury and Fed, neither of which saw it coming, either, intervened with hundreds of billions in bailout cash.
Yet there were those who warned a housing bubble was being created like the dot-com bubble; others who predicted the Empire of Debt was coming down. As, today, there are those warning that the United States, with consecutive deficits running 10 percent of gross domestic product, is risking an eventual default on its national debt.
The warnings come from the Committee on the Fiscal Future of the United States, chaired by Rudolph Penner, former head of the Congressional Budget Office, and David Walker, former head of the Government Accountability Office and author of "Comeback America: Turning the Country Around and Restoring Fiscal Responsibility."
With that share of the U.S. national debt held by individuals, corporations, pension funds and foreign governments having risen in 2009 from 41 percent to 53 percent of GDP, Penner and Walker believe it imperative to get the deficit under control. Unfortunately, it is not possible to see how, politically, this can be done.
Consider. The five largest elements in the budget are Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, defense and interest on the debt.
With interest rates near record lows, and certain to rise, and back-to-back $1.4 trillion deficits, this budget item has to grow and has to be paid if the U.S. government is to continue to borrow.