Gramm's version of things. Some where in the middle lives the truth.
Phil Gramm Says the Banking Crisis Is (Mostly) Not His Fault
Now these laws are under fire, cited by critics -- mostly but not exclusively on the political left -- as major precipitating causes of the financial meltdown. And while both were signed into law by Bill Clinton, Gramm has taken the most heat.
So the American Enterprise Institute, a right-leaning think tank, invited Gramm in Friday to make his case and take some questions. The crowd was heavy on the conservative Washington notables --
ll he and the Clinton Administration were trying to do with the 2000 bill, he claimed, was establish that interest-rate and currency swaps -- two relatively uncontroversial forms of over-the-counter derivatives -- couldn't be regulated as futures by the CFTC. At the time, credit-default swaps weren't on the radar, and the bill didn't prevent the Securities and Exchange Commission or bank regulators from stepping in with new rules.
One force was a Federal Reserve interest-rate policy that was appropriate for the previous "inventory cycle" recessions since World War II, but didn't fit at all the collapse of a speculative bubble in the stock market in 2001 and 2002. Consumers, and the housing market, weren't in a recession at all -- and the Fed's super-low rates precipitated a bubble. "We inadvertently stimulated an industry that was already in boom conditions," Gramm said. "This changed everything. It changed consumption behavior, it changed lending behavior."
Instead, he said they were simply part of a decades-long, bipartisan push -- from Capitol Hill, the White House, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and even bank regulators -- for ever more mortgage lending on ever easier terms.
The result was an environment in which official Washington seemed to believe that no home loan could be a bad home loan. "What we did and what we started was not just to push banks to make marginal loans, but to give them an excuse and to give them regulatory cover," he said. "Countrywide became HUD's poster child for what a good lender was like."
The Great Deregulator has thus become a believer in regulation, at least in the messed up mortgage market. That's because the alternative to concluding that the mortgage market is in need of serious reform, Gramm said, is to conclude that financial capitalism doesn't work. And he's nowhere near ready to conclude that.
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