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It became obvious that neither public sector leadership nor private sector leadership really understood the complex financial instruments that were structured, packaged and sold during the boom years. Only after the crisis had begun unfolding did the New York Times publish an account of the brief meeting between Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) officials and the heads of the large investment banks.
The investment banks wanted the SEC to exempt their brokerage units from an old regulation that limited the amount of debt they could take on.
The Fed slashed interest rates from 2001 to mid-2004, which led to warnings of a potential bust, but Greenspan brushed these worries aside, according to the NY Times.
While the crisis cannot be blamed on one single entity because it came about as a result of greed and complacency of consumers, investors and businesses alike, it is widely argued that the lack of good governance at the public and private levels led to this meltdown.
Good governance, in the private and public sphere, is the ability to exercise power, and to make good decisions over time, across a spectrum of economic, social, environmental and other areas.
In loosening the capital rules, which are supposed to provide a buffer in turbulent times, the SEC also decided to rely on these investment banks’ own risk models, essentially allowing them to monitor and regulate themselves.
The 2004 decision was a chance for the SEC to supervise the banks’ increasingly risky investments in mortgage-related securities, but the agency never followed through on this and it remained a low priority, until now.