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Betting on the Wall Street Crash

If you read Michael Lewis’s book The Big Short or see the movie by the same name, you won’t find much about how the financial crisis of 2008 was set in motion more than two decades earlier. You won’t learn much about the roles of Ronald Reagan and his disdain for big government or about Bill Clinton’s faith in neo-liberalism, trusting that the modern markets and the supposedly sophisticated investors would keep excesses in check.

Nor will you find much about economist-turned-politician Phil Gramm who incorporated many of Reagan’s and Clinton’s beliefs into legislative actions, slashing taxes on the rich in the 1980s (and thus incentivizing greed) and, in the 1990s, brushing aside Franklin Roosevelt’s painfully learned lessons from the Great Depression about the need for firewalls between the speculation of Wall Street and the hard-earned savings of Main Street.

Also out of Lewis’s narrative frame is Brooksley Born, the federal commodities regulator who foresaw the looming danger from the exotic new financial instruments that sliced and diced risky subprime mortgages and packaged them in bonds with ratings far above what they deserved – and the even riskier tendency to lay bets on how the bonds would perform.

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