Federal authorities have announced that they are opening an investigation into the collapse of Washington Mutual, the largest bank failure in America. This step is long overdue, and should be the start of a much broader investigation of potential criminal behavior throughout the financial system.
I have been calling for such an investigation since the financial crisis broke publicly. It is heartening to see at least two U.S. Attorneys, as well as the Attorney General of New York, take their responsibilities seriously.
While much of the blame for the current turmoil in our housing and financial markets can be blamed on bad policies advocated by the current and prior administrations, and the current and prior congresses, there appears to have been massive fraud and other misbehavior in the deliberate overvaluing of mortgage-backed assets, reinforced by the failure of ratings agencies to do their jobs. Well-connected VIPs and derivatives traders made money at the expense of common investors and the public. Yet the authorities so far have done little to bring those responsible to account. Markets must be carefully policed to detect and punish fraud and other criminal behavior.
Rather than ensure transparency and enforce laws and regulations to protect financial integrity, public officials manipulated the system to put more people into homes regardless of their ability to pay in order to win political support.
In particular, Congress pushed banks, like Washington Mutual, to make more and riskier loans to people with poorer credit histories. There was pervasive misuse of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac by politicians, some of who have been leading efforts to stabilize the financial system. Even when problems became evident and analysts began raising the alarm, these same irresponsible politicians killed every attempt to limit taxpayer exposure to bad lending.
Having unnecessarily put the taxpayers at risk, it is critical that Congress and the Justice Department ensure tough oversight of the trillion-dollar-plus bailout program.
Already the Bush administration has engaged in bait and switch, promising to use the money to buy up bad securities, but instead using it to buy stakes in leading banks, which is itself bad policy and bad economics. That much money is an obvious target for fraud and corruption as well as bad faith. Prosecutors must keep investigators on alert and indictments at the ready to ensure that criminals do not fleece the taxpayers as they have been by politicians.
We must act quickly to restore integrity to the financial marketplace by enforcing laws and regulations against fraud and other misbehavior. We also must correct policies that led to Wall Street’s debacle. Congress must rein in the Federal Reserve, since the latter’s ‘easy money’ policy helped create the housing bubble that just popped. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac must be privatized and Congress must end its interference in the lending markets.
When government is the problem, more government is not the answer. And when the same politicians who created the mess are reelected to office time and time again, there is little hope that these same people will resolve our problems. True change—not that of which Barack Obama has been championing—will only come from electing officials who have committed to reducing the size of government and its intervention in the economy.
Even just a few days before the election, neither Sen. John McCain nor Sen. Barack Obama has fully committed to keeping the government out of the economy. Both support the same policies of government intervention that created the financial crisis in the first place.
Americans cannot afford more big-government fixes for today's problems. Americans cannot afford Senators John McCain or Barack Obama.