Center for American Progress

Conservatives Can’t Escape Blame for the Financial Crisis
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Conservatives Can’t Escape Blame for the Financial Crisis

Conservatives' ideological imperative to blame the government, and more importantly to avoid the culpability of laissez faire economics, have overridden all other considerations, including those of actually looking at the facts.

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The onset of the recent financial crisis in late 2007 created an intellectual crisis for conservatives, who had been touting for decades the benefits of a hands-off approach to financial market regulation. As the crisis quickly spiraled out of control, it quickly became apparent that the massive credit bubble of the mid-2000s, followed by the inevitable bust that culminated with the financial markets freeze in the fall of 2008, occurred predominantly among those parts of the financial system that were least regulated, or where regulations existed but were largely unenforced.

Predictably, many conservatives sought to blame the bogeymen they always blamed. In March of 2008, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) blamed loans “to the minorities, to the poor, to the young” as causing foreclosures. Not long after, conservative commentator Michele Malkin went so far as to claim that illegal immigration caused the crisis.

This tendency to shift blame to minorities and poor people for the financial crisis soon developed into a well-honed narrative on the right. Swiftly and repeatedly many conservatives blamed affordable housing policies—particularly the affordable housing goals in place for the two government sponsored mortgage finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act that applies to regulated lenders such as banks and thrifts—for the massive financial crisis that occurred. This despite the fact that as recently as 2006 prominent conservatives, including FCIC Republican member and American Enterprise Institute Senior Fellow Peter Wallison, were arguing that Fannie and Freddie needed to do more lending to low-income communities and minorities.

Last week, the Republican minority on the congressionally created Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission continued this tradition of willful blindness, issuing their own self-described nine-page "primer" on the financial crisis—one that attempts to lay the blame once again on Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the Community Reinvestment Act. The picture they paint is reflective of a mindset they displayed last week when all four Republican members tried to ban the phrases "Wall Street," "shadow banking," "interconnection," and "deregulation" from the final report.

These terms are important to understanding what happened in the 2000s. But equally damning is this—the minority members of the FCIC got their facts wrong, their time frames jumbled, and their selection of relevant facts skewed to reflect their libertarian biases. The ideological imperative to blame the government, and more importantly to avoid the culpability of laissez faire economics, have overridden all other considerations, including those of actually looking at the facts.

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