Joe Nocera, writing in the New York Times, makes comments on the Financial Crisis Commission’s report not dissimilar to my own:
The F.C.I.C. is the first to take a close look at the missteps at Citigroup, which virtually every book about the financial crisis has overlooked. It is a devastating portrait of negligence at the top — including the once sainted Robert Rubin. It homes in on the unconscionable willingness of federal regulators to look the other way at destructive subprime lending practices. It digs into A.I.G., Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers, Moody’s, the Federal Reserve, Countrywide, Ameriquest and others. It’s a very long list.
Which is also one of its key weaknesses: the report has a kitchen sink quality that actually detracts from our ability to truly understand why the crisis took place. In their joint dissent, the three Republican commissioners complain that the report “is more an account of bad events than a focused explanation of what happened and why. When everything is important, nothing is.”
He also takes the minority’s report to task:
Yet the Republican 30,000-foot view of the crisis has its own drawback: it’s so bloodless it’s almost as if they are saying nobody is responsible for the bad things that took place in the years leading up to the crisis. When I spoke to Keith Hennessey, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and one of the co-authors of the Republican dissent, he told me that he and the other Republicans agreed with many of the investigative thrusts of the final reports. (It didn’t help that the Republicans had only 27 pages to express their views, compared to the Democrats’ 500-plus pages.)
The question, he said, wasn’t whether there were bad actors or fraudulent practices — “of course there were, and they did awful things,” he said — but whether the particular actions of particular people had been the primary reasons for the financial crisis. “If you take that view, then you are saying that the crisis was foreseeable and preventable. I think the real answer is: we don’t know,” Mr. Hennessey said.
As I’ve been trying to explain I do think that the crisis was foreseeable and preventable, I think that those in a position to foresee and prevent it were regulators and the Congress, and distracting from that reduces our ability to prevent a recurrence rather than enhancing it.
Mr. Nocera skewers the minority minority report:
Peter Wallison, the American Enterprise Institute scholar and the fourth Republican F.C.I.C. commissioner, had already released his own, one-man dissent — a lonely, loony cri de coeur that placed the blame for the financial crisis entirely on Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and federal home ownership policies, a position so contrary to the facts that even his fellow Republican commissioners did not agree with him.
His conclusion dovetails pretty nicely with mine:
But mass delusions, alas, are part of the human condition, and no report, no matter how scathing, is going to change that.
I emphatically do not believe by that that I blame the victims. I have no objection to pursuing civil and criminal cases against bankers where there is actual wrongdoing. Indeed, I believe these things should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. I also believe that the Congress and regulators hold positions of trust that go beyond getting re-elected or landing that cushy job at Goldman Sachs. If consumers behave badly, it’s a problem. If Congress and regulators behave badly, it’s a violation of their offices.