For the more one looks into the origins of the current disaster, the clearer it becomes that the key wrong turn — the turn that made crisis inevitable — took place in the early 1980s, during the Reagan years.
…Now, the proximate causes of today’s economic crisis lie in events that took place long after Reagan left office — in the global savings glut created by surpluses in China and elsewhere, and in the giant housing bubble that savings glut helped inflate.
But it was the explosion of debt over the previous quarter-century that made the U.S. economy so vulnerable. Overstretched borrowers were bound to start defaulting in large numbers once the housing bubble burst and unemployment began to rise.
These defaults in turn wreaked havoc with a financial system that — also mainly thanks to Reagan-era deregulation — took on too much risk with too little capital.
There’s plenty of blame to go around these days. But the prime villains behind the mess we’re in were Reagan and his circle of advisers — men who forgot the lessons of America’s last great financial crisis, and condemned the rest of us to repeat it.
Update: The following story demonstrates another aspect of the Reagan/conservative movement ideology of “government regulation bad, unhindered corporate greed good”. Christopher Cox, former chairman of the SEC and subject of this story, served in the Reagan White House.
During Cox’s tenure, investigators who wanted to subpoena documents or compel interviews faced an increasingly cumbersome process to win the commission’s approval for each case, according to current and former agency officials.
Cox also required enforcement officials to see the commissioners before approaching a company about a civil settlement. In several high-profile cases, when SEC lawyers were ready to ask the commission to authorize lawsuits or approve settlements, Cox postponed the decisions at the last minute, leaving cases unresolved for months, the sources said. At times, as in the Biovail case, the commission eventually weakened the sanctions sought by the enforcement division.