TAPPER: You'll be testifying about the financial crisis on Wednesday before the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission. When you testified before Congress in October, you said that you finally saw a flaw in -- in the way that you looked at markets, that markets cannot necessarily be trusted to completely police themselves.
But isn't it -- isn't it more than a flaw? Isn't it an indictment of Ayn Rand and the view that laissez-faire capitalism can be expected to function properly, that markets can be trusted to police themselves?
GREENSPAN: Not at all. I think that there is no alternative, if you want to have economic growth and higher standards of living, in a democratic society, to have competitive markets. And, indeed, if you merely look at the history since the Enlightenment of the 18th century, when all of those ideas surfaced and became applicable in public policy,we've had an explosion of economic growth, and especially in the developing countries, where hundreds of millions of people have been pulled out of poverty, of extreme poverty and starvation, basically because we have competitive markets.
So it's not the principle of competitive markets which really has no alternative which works. It is a strict application -- as I presented in a Brookings paper fairly recently on a somewhat technical area, the major mistake was assuming what the nature of risk would be. And the reason it was missed is we have had no experience of the type of risks that arose following the default of Lehman Brothers in September 2008.That's the critical mistake. And I made it. Everybody that I know who works in this business made it. And it means that basically we have to work our way back to understanding what went on. And as I argue, what we need is far more required capital for financial institutions than we've had.
Observing these trends in April 2005, Mr. Greenspan trumpeted the expansion of the subprime mortgage market. “Where once more-marginal applicants would simply have been denied credit,” he said, “lenders are now able to quite efficiently judge the risk posed by individual applicants and to price that risk appropriately.”
Yet the tide was about to turn. By December 2005, subprime mortgages that had been issued just six months earlier were already showing atypically high delinquency rates. (It’s worth noting that even though most of these mortgages had a low two-year teaser rate, the borrowers still had early difficulty making payments.)
The market for subprime mortgages and the derivatives thereof would not begin its spectacular collapse until roughly two years after Mr. Greenspan’s speech. But the signs were all there in 2005, when a bursting of the bubble would have had far less dire consequences, and when the government could have acted to minimize the fallout.
Instead, our leaders in Washington either willfully or ignorantly aided and abetted the bubble. And even when the full extent of the financial crisis became painfully clear early in 2007, the Federal Reserve chairman, the Treasury secretary, the president and senior members of Congress repeatedly underestimated the severity of the problem, ultimately leaving themselves with only one policy tool — the epic and unfair taxpayer-financed bailouts. Now, in exchange for that extra year or two of consumer bliss we all enjoyed, our children and our children’s children will suffer terrible financial consequences.