World and Nation

Financial meltdown was ‘avoidable,’ inquiry concludes

WASHINGTON — The 2008 financial crisis was an “avoidable” disaster caused by widespread failures in government regulation, corporate mismanagement and heedless risk-taking by Wall Street, according to the conclusions of a federal inquiry.

The government commission that investigated the financial crisis casts a wide net of blame, faulting two administrations, the Federal Reserve and other regulators for permitting a calamitous concoction: shoddy mortgage lending, the excessive packaging and sale of loans to investors, and risky bets on securities backed by the loans.

“The greatest tragedy would be to accept the refrain that no one could have seen this coming and thus nothing could have been done,” the panel wrote in the report’s conclusions, which were examined by The New York Times. “If we accept this notion, it will happen again.”

While the panel, the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, accuses several financial institutions of greed, ineptitude or both, some of its gravest conclusions concern government failings, with embarrassing implications for both political parties. But the panel was itself divided along partisan lines, which could blunt its impact.

Many of the conclusions have been widely described, but its synthesis of interviews, documents and testimony, along with its government imprimatur, give the report — to be released as a 576-page book on Thursday — a conclusive sweep and authority.

When the bipartisan commission was set up in May of 2009, the intent of Congress and President Barack Obama was to produce a comprehensive examination of the crisis’s causes.

The commission conducted 19 days of hearings and interviews with more than 700 witnesses; it has pledged to release a trove of transcripts and other raw material.

Of the 10 commission members, only the six appointed by Democrats endorsed the final report. Three Republican members have prepared a dissent focusing on a narrower set of causes; a fourth Republican, Peter Wallison, a former Treasury official and White House counsel to President Ronald Reagan, has written a dissent, calling government policies to promote homeownership the primary culprit. The panel was hobbled repeatedly by internal divisions.

The majority report finds fault with two Fed chairmen: Alan Greenspan, a skeptic of regulation who led the central bank as the housing bubble expanded, and Ben S. Bernanke PhD ’79, who did not foresee the crisis but then played a crucial role in the response.