There are many reasons to be grateful that John McCain didn't win the election, but his reliance on and trust in this economic evildoer has to be at the top of the list:
Phil Gramm, the former United States senator, often told that story of how his mother acquired his childhood home. Considered something of a risk, she took out a mortgage with relatively high interest rates that he likened to today’s subprime loans.
A fierce opponent of government intervention in the marketplace, Mr. Gramm, a Republican from Texas, recalled the episode during a 2001 Senate debate over a measure to curb predatory lending. What some view as exploitive, he argued, others see as a gift.
“Some people look at subprime lending and see evil. I look at subprime lending and I see the American dream in action,” he said. “My mother lived it as a result of a finance company making a mortgage loan that a bank would not make.”
On Capitol Hill, Mr. Gramm became the most effective proponent of deregulation in a generation, by dint of his expertise (a Ph.D in economics), free-market ideology, perch on the Senate banking committee and force of personality (a writer in Texas once called him “a snapping turtle”). And in one remarkable stretch from 1999 to 2001, he pushed laws and promoted policies that he says unshackled businesses from needless restraints but his critics charge significantly contributed to the financial crisis that has rattled the nation.
He led the effort to block measures curtailing deceptive or predatory lending, which was just beginning to result in a jump in home foreclosures that would undermine the financial markets. He advanced legislation that fractured oversight of Wall Street while knocking down Depression-era barriers that restricted the rise and reach of financial conglomerates.
And he pushed through a provision that ensured virtually no regulation of the complex financial instruments known as derivatives, including credit swaps, contracts that would encourage risky investment practices at Wall Street’s most venerable institutions and spread the risks, like a virus, around the world.
Many of his deregulation efforts were backed by the Clinton administration. Other members of Congress — who collectively received hundreds of millions of dollars in campaign contributions from financial industry donors over the last decade — also played roles.
Many lawmakers, for example, insisted that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the nation’s largest mortgage finance companies, take on riskier mortgages in an effort to aid poor families. Several Republicans resisted efforts to address lending abuses. And Congressional committees failed to address early symptoms of the coming illness.
But, until he left Capitol Hill in 2002 to work as an investment banker and lobbyist for UBS, a Swiss bank that has been hard hit by the market downturn, it was Mr. Gramm who most effectively took up the fight against more government intervention in the markets.
“Phil Gramm was the great spokesman and leader of the view that market forces should drive the economy without regulation,” said James D. Cox, a corporate law scholar at Duke University. “The movement he helped to lead contributed mightily to our problems.”
In two recent interviews, Mr. Gramm described the current turmoil as “an incredible trauma,” but said he was proud of his record.
He blamed others for the crisis: Democrats who dropped barriers to borrowing in order to promote homeownership; what he once termed “predatory borrowers” who took out mortgages they could not afford; banks that took on too much risk; and large financial institutions that did not set aside enough capital to cover their bad bets.
But looser regulation played virtually no role, he argued, saying that is simply an emerging myth.
Complicated events such as this economic meltdown can't ever be attributed to just one person. But there are those who stand out above all others for their pride in their error and and their arrogant unwillingness to take responsibility for what they did.
Phil Gramm was one of the Generals of the Republican Revolution and the economic prophet of the free market fundamentalists. Like neocons such as Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz, he and fellow travellers like Dick Armey and Newt Gingrich have been completely discredited and should be allowed nowhere near power again as long as they live.
It was only 14 years ago that Dick Armey wrote this in the Heritage Foundation's Policy Review, on the 50th anniversary of the publication of The Road To Serfdom:
``Liberation is at hand.... A paradigm-shattering revolution has just taken place. In the signal events of the 1980s--from the collapse of communism to the Reagan economic boom to the rise of the computer--the idea of economic freedom has been overwhelmingly vindicated. The intellectual foundation of statism has turned to dust. This revolution has been so sudden and sweeping that few in Washington have yet grasped its full meaning.... But when the true significance of the 1980s freedom revolution sinks in, politics, culture--indeed, the entire human outlook--will change.... Once this shift takes place--by 1996, I predict--we will be able to advance a true Hayekian agenda, including.... radical spending cuts, the end of the public school monopoly, a free market health-care system, and the elimination of the family-destroying welfare dole. Unlike 1944, history is now on the side of freedom.''
That worked out.