The Biggest Cause of the Financial Crisis

You voted, and the results are in!

Anand Chokkavelu
Anand Chokkavelu, CFA
Apr 13, 2009 at 12:00AM

A few weeks ago, we set out to determine who deserved the most blame for this financial mess we're in ... March Madness style. Sixteen contenders competed in our blame bracket. Now, only one remains to claim the agony of victory.

Based on your voting, you blame the repealers of the Glass-Steagall act (skillfully advocated by Foolish colleague Christopher Barker) more than any other culprit.

The Glass-Steagall Act required the separation of commercial and investment banks. After it was repealed, one-stop-shops such as Citigroup (NYSE:C), JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM), and Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) were allowed to supplement their regular deposit and lending businesses with all the bells and whistles of Wall Street -- helping to lead them into too-big-to-fail territory.

There could only be one winner, but the close voting indicates that you spread the guilt among at least 14 of our 16 candidates. Basically, everyone in our bracket got some blame love except Adam Smith and Kate Hudson, who share honors as the biggest blowouts of the first round. You refused to blame Adam Smith for the perversions of his free-market principles, and you refused to blame Kate Hudson's romantic-comedy misses for our financial drama. (We would have been worried if you had.)  

It was fun to narrow the field down to one culprit, but let's see how all 14 intertwine via one too-big-to-fail sentence:

Lax regulation by Congress (e.g., repealing Glass-Steagall), the SEC (e.g., allowing investment bank leverage as high as 40-to-1, and failing to catch Bernie Madoff sooner), and the Greenspan/Bernanke dynamic duo (e.g., excessively low interest rates), assisted by subprime guarantees by Fannie Mae (NYSE:FNM) and Freddie Mac, along with bogus debt assessments by the ratings agencies (primarily Moody's (NYSE: MCO), S&P (part of McGraw-Hill (NYSE: MHP)), and Fitch), and a blind eye turned by the media enabled Wall Street (encompassing everyone from Angelo Mozilo's Countrywide to Kerry Killinger's Washington Mutual to Hank Paulson's Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS)) to use excessive leverage and incomprehensible derivative instruments, blessed by geeks bearing formulas, to sustain too-good-to-be-true mortgage deals, which were then swallowed up by a bubble-crazed Main Street.

Whew! I count 125 words -- and that's without bringing Kate Hudson into it. Let's hope that next year, I can write an equally long sentence assessing who deserves the credit for a great financial recovery plan. Fingers crossed.

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