New Crisis, Old Isms

The Federal Reserve Bank’s decision last week to address the housing crisis by extending $200 billion of taxpayer-financed credit to Wall Street banks was met with a stunned reaction typical of surprising events. But really, the move was the expression of longstanding isms that routinely package corruption as sound public policy.

Some background: During the housing boom, banks doled out home loans to financially strapped borrowers, often on predatory terms. On the creditor side, these same banks packaged many of the loans as complex securities and sold them off to unwitting investors, generating a handsome profit on the paper transactions. At the same time, Wall Street used campaign contributions to coerce Congress into blocking anti-predatory-lending bills and repealing a landmark law regulating how banks could buy and sell securities.

Predictably, many borrowers are now defaulting on their loans, meaning losses for financial institutions that hold mortgages and mortgage-backed securities. The Fed responded with what author Naomi Klein calls disaster capitalism — the age-old practice of using a crisis to enrich corporate interests. In this case, the Fed is using the housing emergency to justify giving taxpayer cash to Wall Street in exchange for its worthless mortgages.

“What the Fed really did was lend money to banks and accept the counterfeit currency as collateral, treating it just as though it were real money,” says Dean Baker, the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

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