In common with other accounts of the financial crisis, the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission report notes that mortgage underwriting standards were abandoned, allowing many more loans to be made. It blames the regulators for not standing pat while this occurred. However, the report fails to ask, let alone answer, why standards were abandoned.

In our view, blaming the regulators is a weak argument.

A much more sensible explanation can be found by asking: what were the financial incentives for such poorly underwritten loans? Why would “the market” want bad loans?

All the report offers as explanation is that the “machine” drove it or “investors” wanted these loans. This is lazy and fails to illuminate anything, particularly when there are other red flags in the report, such as numerous mortgage market participants pointing to growing problems starting as early as 2003. Signs of recklessness were more visible in 2004 and 2005, to the point were Sabeth Siddique of the Federal Reserve Board, who conducted a survey of mortgage loan quality in late 2005, found the results to be “very alarming”.

FCIC Report Misses Central Issue: Why Was There Demand for Bad Mortgage Loans?, 1/31/11

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