Taibbi Gets It

While on vacation last week, I read Matt Taibbi’s new book, Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con That Is Breaking America. It’s pretty brilliant and righteous in directing anger towards banks, but also the politicians who are helping them steal from America. There’s a passage in it on the housing crisis and the bailouts, which was previously highlighted by Tristero, that I think is worth drawing out.

…Almost everyone who touched that mountain turned out to be a crook of some kind. The mortgage brokers systematically falsified information on loan applications in order to secure bigger loans and hawked explosive option-ARM mortgages to people who either didn’t understand them or, worse, did understand them and simply never intended to pay. The loan originators cranked out massive volumes of loans with plainly doctored applications, not giving a shit about whether or not the borrowers could pay, in a desperate search for short-term rebates and fees. The securitizers used harebrained math to turn crap mortgages into AAA-rated investments; the ratings agencies slgned off on that harebrained math and handed out those AAA ratings in order to keep the fees coming in and the bonuses for their executives high. But even the ratings agencies were blindsided by scammers who advertised and sold, openly, help in rigging FICO scores to make broke and busted borrowers look like good credit risks. The corrupt ratings agencies were undone by ratings corrupters!

Meanwhile, investment banks tried to stick pensioners and insurance companies with their toxic investments, or else they held on to their toxic investments and tried to rip off idiots like [AIG sleazeball] Joe Cassano by sticking him with the liability of default. But they were undone by the fact that Joe Cassano probably never even intended to pay off, just like the thousands of homeowners who bought too-big houses with optionARM mortgages and never intended to pay. And at the tail end of all this frantic lying, cheating, and scamming on all sides, during which time no good jobs were created and nothing except a few now-empty houses (good for nothing except depressing future home prices) got built, the final result is that we all ended up picking up the tab, subsidizing all this crime and dishonesty and pessimism as a matter of national policy.

We paid for this instead of a generation of health insurance, or an alternative energy grid, or a brand-new system of roads and highways. With the $13-plus trillion we are estimated to ultimately spend on the bailouts, We could not only have bought and paid off every single subprime mortgage in the country (that would only have cost $1.4 trillion), we could have paid off every remaining mortgage of any kind in this country-and still have had enough money left over to buy a new house for every American who does not already have one.

But we didn’t do that, and we didn’t spend the money on anything else useful, either. Why? For a very good reason. Because we’re no good anymore at building bridges and highways or coming up with brilliant innovations in energy or medicine. We’re shit now at finishing massive public works projects or launching brilliant fairy-tale public policy ventures like the moon landing.

What are we good at? Robbing what’s left. When it comes to that, we Americans have no peer. And when it came time to design the bailouts, a monster collective project spanning two presidential administrations that was every bit as vast and far-reaching (only not into the future but the past)) as Kennedy’s trip to the moon, we showed It. [Emphasis added]

There’s a lot in there, but when it comes to a question of how most of the country ends up thinking about the 2008 financial collapse, the bailouts of Wall Street banks, the government subsidy of the buyouts of Bear Stearns and Merrill Lynch, the bailouts of the GSEs and AIG, and TARP, I find it hard not to think that the bolded paragraph above is not going to be the thing that gets people most pissed off.

We paid for this instead of a generation of health insurance, or an alternative energy grid, or a brand-new system of roads and highways. With the $13-plus trillion we are estimated to ultimately spend on the bailouts, We could not only have bought and paid off every single subprime mortgage in the country (that would only have cost $1.4 trillion), we could have paid off every remaining mortgage of any kind in this country-and still have had enough money left over to buy a new house for every American who does not already have one.

But we didn’t do that, and we didn’t spend the money on anything else useful, either.

When Americans look around and see their roads crumbling, their pensions gone, and their medical bills putting them into bankruptcy about as quickly as they’re getting foreclosed upon, and see the fact that they could have had their home and their pension and healthcare too instead, well, I wouldn’t want to be serving in an electoral office when that moment comes. And trust me, it will come.

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