If he concedes that mistakes were made on Wall Street, what upsets him are the regulators, the senators, the government-sponsored enterprises, the wrongheaded economists, the central bankers, the credit-rating agencies, plus the overleveraged non-financial corporations and especially the overeager home buyers. “On all sides, there are people who could have done things better,” he said. “Everyone shares in this. And my issue is that if you pinpoint one or two and not everyone, you will solve one or two of the problems, but the problem includes everyone.”
Still, he’s not shy about doling out some blame. “Individual borrowers,” he writes, “cannot escape responsibility.” And though he concedes they were encouraged by easy credit, and amazingly low interest rates, and terribly lowered underwriting standards, he doesn’t explain that the financial system was the one providing that encouragement. Likewise, he writes that the central banks, legislators and regulators “cannot escape their share of blame for the crisis” for having allowed such high levels of leverage, and doesn’t mention who’d been furiously lobbying them.
“I’m not saying all the practices were good. I’m not. I’m saying that it should not surprise someone that if you put the speed limit at 100 miles an hour, then A-type personalities will drive at 100 miles an hour,” Mr. Russo said. “It is no surprise that people were driving at 100 miles an hour. Not a surprise.”
The core problem, as he sees it, is that we live in a society that did “everything possible to push homeownership,” not that Wall Street’s creation of mortgage-backed securities, and its leveraged bets on them, amplified the catastrophe of a burst bubble. “Was it done in a secret way?” he said about securitization. “Was it something that if the government thought was bad they could have stopped?”
So it isn’t surprising when he writes that essential job growth historically relies on small businesses, and that large banks have not been “enthusiastic lenders to small business,” but does not cast aspersions. Instead, he briefly wonders if banks “are simply hoarding,” but then warns that “one must also take account recent studies” suggesting that reduced small-business lending has to do with “softening demand.” A page later, he reveals that only 1 in 10 small-business owners trying to borrow money have recently “had all of their credit needs met.” He leaves it at that.
In that sense, the book provides a wonderful glimpse into the current state of mind on Wall Street: conflicted, angry, anxious and proud. “I’m not doing it for any other reason,” Mr. Russo said, “except to give data to people in, I think, hopefully, a balanced form.”
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