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 TWENTY-FIVE PEOPLE AT THE HEART OF THE MELTDOWN

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PostSubject: TWENTY-FIVE PEOPLE AT THE HEART OF THE MELTDOWN   Mon Mar 23, 2009 8:34 pm

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TWENTY-FIVE PEOPLE AT THE HEART OF THE MELTDOWN

(January 26, 2009)
The worst economic turmoil since the Great Depression is not a natural phenomenon but a man-made disaster in which we all played a part. In the second part of a week-long series looking behind the slump, Guardian City editor Julia Finch picks out the individuals who have led us into the current crisis..

Alan Greenspan, chairman of US Federal Reserve 1987- 2006 Only a couple of years ago the long-serving chairman of the Fed, a committed free marketeer who had steered the US economy through crises ranging from the 1987 stockmarket collapse through to the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, was lauded with star status, named the ‘oracle’ and ‘the maestro’. Now he is viewed as one of those most culpable for the crisis. He is blamed for allowing the housing bubble to develop as a result of his low interest rates and lack of regulation in mortgage lending. He backed sub-prime lending and urged homebuyers to swap fixed-rate mortgages for variable rate deals, which left borrowers unable to pay when interest rates rose.

For many years, Greenspan also defended the booming derivatives business, which barely existed when he took over the Fed, but which mushroomed from $100tn in 2002 to more than $500tn five years later.

Billionaires George Soros and Warren Buffett might have been extremely worried about these complex products - Soros avoided them because he didn't "really understand how they work" and Buffett famously described them as "financial weapons of mass destruction" - but Greenspan did all he could to protect the market from what he believed was unnecessary regulation. In 2003 he told the Senate banking committee: "Derivatives have been an extraordinarily useful vehicle to transfer risk from those who shouldn't be taking it to those who are willing to and are capable of doing so".

In recent months, however, he has admitted at least some of his long-held beliefs have turned out to be incorrect - not least that free markets would handle the risks involved, that too much regulation would damage Wall Street and that, ultimately, banks would always put the protection of their shareholders first.

He has described the current financial crisis as "the type ... that comes along only once in a century" and last autumn said the fact that the banks had played fast and loose with shareholders' equity had left him "in a state of shocked disbelief".

Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England

When Mervyn King settled his feet under the desk in his Threadneedle Street office, the UK economy was motoring along just nicely: GDP was growing at 3% and inflation was just 1.3%. Chairing his first meeting of the Bank's monetary policy committee (MPC), interest rates were cut to a post-war low of 3.5%. His ambition was that monetary policy decision-making should become "boring".

How we would all like it to become boring now. When the crunch first took hold, the Aston Villa-supporting governor insisted it was not about to become an international crisis. In the first weeks of the crunch he refused to pump cash into the financial system and insisted that "moral hazard" meant that some banks should not be bailed out. The Treasury select committee has said King should have been "more pro-active".

King's MPC should have realised there was a housing bubble developing and taken action to damp it down and, more recently, the committee should have seen the recession coming and cut interest rates far faster than it did.

.................................................. ....................................
Politicians

.................................................. .....................................
Bill Clinton, former US president

Clinton shares at least some of the blame for the current financial chaos. He beefed up the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act to force mortgage lenders to relax their rules to allow more socially disadvantaged borrowers to qualify for home loans.
In 1999 Clinton repealed the Glass-Steagall Act, which ensured a complete separation between commercial banks, which accept deposits, and investment banks, which invest and take risks. The move prompted the era of the superbank and primed the sub-prime pump. The year before the repeal sub-prime loans were just 5% of all mortgage lending. By the time the credit crunch blew up it was approaching 30%.

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