Dissent from the Majority Report of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission

Read the dissent in full as an Adobe Acrobat PDF.

The question I have been most frequently asked about the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission (the "FCIC" or the "Commission") is why Congress bothered to authorize it at all. Without waiting for the Commission's insights into the causes of the financial crisis, Congress passed and President Obama signed the Dodd-Frank Act (DFA), far-reaching and highly consequential regulatory legislation. Congress and the President acted without seeking to understand the true causes of the wrenching events of 2008, perhaps following the precept of the President's chief of staff: "Never let a good crisis go to waste." Although the FCIC's work was not the full investigation to which the American people were entitled, it has served a useful purpose by focusing attention again on the financial crisis and whether--with some distance from it--we can draw a more accurate assessment than the media did with what is often called the "first draft of history."

To avoid the next financial crisis, we must understand what caused the one from which we are now slowly emerging, and take action to avoid the same mistakes in the future. If there is doubt that these lessons are important, consider the ongoing efforts to amend the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 (CRA). Late in the last session of the 111th Congress, a group of Democratic Congress members introduced H.R. 6334. This bill, which was lauded by House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank as his "top priority" in the lame duck session of that Congress, would have extended the CRA to all "U.S. nonbank financial companies," and thus would apply to even more of the national economy the same government social policy mandates responsible for the mortgage meltdown and the financial crisis. Fortunately, the bill was not acted upon. Because of the recent election, it is unlikely that supporters of H.R. 6334 will have the power to adopt similar legislation in the next Congress, but in the future, other lawmakers with views similar to Barney Frank's may seek to mandate similar requirements. At that time, the only real bulwark against the government's use of private entities for social policy purposes will be a full understanding of how these policies were connected to the financial crisis of 2008.

Like Congress and the Obama administration, the Commission's majority erred in assuming that it knew the causes of the financial crisis. Instead of pursuing a thorough study, the Commission's majority used its extensive statutory investigative authority to seek only the facts that supported its initial assumptions--that the crisis was caused by "deregulation" or lax regulation, greed and recklessness on Wall Street, predatory lending in the mortgage market, unregulated derivatives, and a financial system addicted to excessive risk taking. The Commission did not seriously investigate any other cause and did not effectively connect the factors it investigated to the financial crisis. The majority's report covers in detail many elements of the economy before the financial crisis that the authors did not like, but generally fails to show how practices that had gone on for many years suddenly caused a worldwide financial crisis. In the end, the majority's report turned out to be a just-so story about the financial crisis, rather than a report on what caused the financial crisis.

Peter J. Wallison is the Arthur F. Burns Fellow in Financial Policy Studies at AEI.

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine
About the Author

 

Peter J.
Wallison

What's new on AEI

Making Ryan's tax plan smarter
image The teacher evaluation confronts the future
image How to reform the US immigration system
image Inversion hysteria
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 01
    MON
  • 02
    TUE
  • 03
    WED
  • 04
    THU
  • 05
    FRI
Wednesday, September 03, 2014 | 9:00 a.m. – 10:30 a.m.
From anarchy to Augustus: Lessons on dealing with disorder, from Rome’s first emperor

We invite you to join us for two panel discussions on how Augustus created order from chaos 2,000 years ago, and what makes for durable domestic and international political systems in the 21st century.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014 | 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Multiple choice: Expanding opportunity through innovation in K–12 education

Please join us for a book launch event and panel discussion about how a marketplace of education options can help today's students succeed in tomorrow's economy. Attendees will receive a complimentary copy of the featured book.

Thursday, September 04, 2014 | 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
How conservatives can save the safety net

Please join us for a luncheon event in which our panel will discuss what conservatives can learn from how liberals talk and think about the safety net and where free-market economics, federalism, and social responsibility intersect to lift people out of poverty.

No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled today.
No events scheduled this day.