Monday, March 23, 2009

The Herd

Tony Schwartz reminds us that we all had a hand in the current economic debacle:

We're not all innocent victims. Bernard Madoff may have lost $50 billion, but an awful lot of his investors set aside their better judgment in favor of their greed and handed over their money to someone who produced unjustifiably outsize returns and was unwilling to disclose how he did it.

As for Wall Street more broadly, the bubble that finally burst had many enablers: regulatory agencies that failed to play the oversight role they were assigned; politicians from both parties who oversaw the deregulation of the financial markets; ratings agencies who colluded with the banks that paid them by giving unduly high credit ratings to their toxically risky bonds; and the rest of us, millions of investors and borrowers who poured money into markets as if they could only rise, and took out mortgages in order to buy homes we knew we couldn't afford.

We wanted what we wanted, and we didn't think much beyond that. Bankers and their agents were happy to give us what we wanted in order to get what they wanted, and they didn't think much beyond that.

Far too many of us conspired to get as much as we could while the getting was good, never stopping to consider that if everyone keeps trying to get more - leveraging their bets and running up debt to do so -- there will eventually be a day of reckoning.

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