The economic crisis has spread into many areas of the U.S.
economy--banks, investment firms, insurance companies, and even the oil
markets. But as VOA's Kent Klein reports from Washington, experts seem
to agree that the trouble started with bad loans in the housing
industry, and grew into a widespread crisis of confidence.
Faucher, the Director of Macroeconomics at the economic website Moody's
Economy.com, is one of many experts who say the crisis began in the
U.S. housing market. He says prices rose unrealistically high and
credit was given too easily. "We had people who, in retrospect, were
given mortgage loans but should not have been given mortgage loans
because they really could not afford them. So now we are seeing the
effects of that," he said.
International economist Robert Scott,
at the Washington-based Economic Policy Institute, blames the Federal
Reserve--the U.S. central bank--for allowing housing prices to rise too
high. "For the last seven or eight years, until just the last year or
so, Alan Greenspan, the former Chairman of the Federal Reserve, said
that the housing market was sound, that there was nothing wrong with
the rise in housing prices, (which) many, many economists were saying
was unsustainable. So he let that bubble build up, he did nothing
about it, and he bears a lot of responsibility for this crisis," Scott
But that may not be the whole reason. Ted Truman, a
senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics,
says while the financial woes started in the mortgage lending industry,
the causes of those problems have been afflicting other financial
markets. "Everybody calls it a subprime crisis, in the sense that if no
subprime mortgages had ever been made, we would not have had a crisis.
And even the thought that it is all about housing, I think, is an
exaggeration. It is about easy credit, and financial engineering that
went wild, and people who thought that the good times would never come
to an end and were planning accordingly," Truman said.
to Faucher, the bad loans that were handed out by mortgage lenders are
still causing trouble for consumers and for financial institutions.
"There are simply a lot of bad housing-related securities out there.
Those are falling in value. The problem is, we are not sure who is
holding all of those. And as we find out about institutions that are
holding them, those institutions start to fail, and that is causing
problems throughout the entire financial system."
banks are reluctant to lend to one another, because they are not sure
which institutions are holding bad debt. He says the banks are also
reluctant to make loans, so the entire system is coming to a halt.
According to Faucher, worries that one failing financial institution
could drag down others led the U.S. government to buy out most of the
huge insurance company A.I.G.
"The Federal Reserve and the
Treasury Department were concerned that A.I.G. is involved in many
different financial markets. And they were concerned that if A.I.G.
failed, that would bring down the entire financial system. So
therefore, they decided to step in and have, essentially, the federal
government take over the firm."
Many economists, including
Scott, believe tighter regulation could have prevented the crisis.
"Mistake number one was failing to regulate the financial sector. We
should have required them to hold much greater reserves. They are not
required to hold any reserves now. Secondly, we should have limited
which they can invest in these high-risk assets," Scott said.
Reich, who was Labor Secretary under President Bill Clinton, says the
troubles have worsened to this point because there was not enough
regulation of the financial industry between 2002 and 2006, when the
economy was strong.
"Wall Street increased its borrowing
dramatically. Our financial institutions increased borrowing much
faster than economic growth. Individuals increased their borrowing,
also, much faster than economic growth. But nobody was minding the
store. Our regulators were not overseeing the system to make sure that
there was adequate disclosure (and) capital requirements, so that
information could get to the right people at the right time. The
system was no longer transparent," he said.
Reich says America's
financial markets need to adhere to the same standards that the U.S.
encourages in other countries. "The United States continues to tell
developing nations, as the I.M.F. and World Bank continue to tell
developing nations, that they have to have a transparent capital market
before capital will be attracted to them. Well, the same principle
applies to the United States. Unless our markets are transparent,
capital, at some point, is going to be afraid and start stampeding out
of those markets, and that is exactly what has happened," he said.
recent days, both U.S. presidential candidates, Republican John McCain
and Democrat Barack Obama, have advocated tighter regulation of
financial institutions. And U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson is
said to be considering creating an institution to deal with troubled
banks and investments.