Finance / Politics / Socioculture

A superb profile of Sheila Bair, whose term as F.D.I.C. chairman has ended, in the Sunday NYT.

“Do you really think they should have let Bear fail?” I asked.
When she put her drink down, her hesitation was gone. “Let’s face it,” she said. “Bear Stearns was a second-tier investment bank, with — what? — around $400 billion in assets? I’m a traditionalist. Banks and bank-holding companies are in the safety net. That’s why they have deposit insurance. Investment banks take higher risks, and they are supposed to be outside the safety net. If they make enough mistakes, they are supposed to fail. So, yes, I was amazed when they saved it. I couldn’t believe it. When they told me about it, I said: ‘Guess what: Investment banks fail.’

“Getting the banks to make large-scale mortgage modifications is no different today than it was in 2007 — next to impossible. The servicers still lack the economic incentives to modify mortgages; it’s easier in most cases for them to foreclose, which also generates fees, while modifications don’t.

“I think the president’s heart is in the right place,” Bair told me. “I absolutely do. But the dichotomy between who he selected to run his economic team and what he personally would like them to be doing — I think those are two very different things.” What particularly galls her is that Treasury under both Paulson and Geithner has been willing to take all sorts of criticism to help the banks. But it has been utterly unwilling to take any political heat to help homeowners.”


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