- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 21, 2008



Once again the federal government has left Americans in a precarious state as a terrible storm passes through the U.S. economy. Like Hurricane Katrina, some folks thought the government could keep them from harm, but, as in New Orleans, things have gotten out of control quickly as bad housing loans have shredded the economy.

Christopher Cox, head of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), knew for perhaps a year that some large financial and insurance companies were buying risky housing loans, hoping to make a quick buck on consumers paying mortgage interest. But instead of issuing strict warnings against such irresponsible business moves, Mr. Cox sat in his office and fiddled.

Unlike Mr. Cox, most investors in companies like AIG and Merrill Lynch did not know bad loans were becoming part of their portfolios; they had no idea their so called “blue chip” stocks were really Las Vegas-type situations. And Mr. Cox did not tell them.

Rep. Barney Frank, Massachusetts Democrat, also sat by as mortgage brokers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac made bad loans, even though Mr. Frank, as head of the House Banking Committee, certainly knew the score. Instead of demanding responsible business practices from Fannie and Freddie, Mr. Frank continued to pound the table to extend even more credit to “low income” families. The mortgage companies were happy to accommodate him, giving big money to folks with little collateral.

So now the U.S. economy has imploded along with President Bush’s legacy. He appointed Christopher Cox, and on his watch millions of Americans are suffering economically. This is certainly not how the president wanted to go out.

In the movie “Wall Street,” Michael Douglas tells the audience that “greed, for lack of a better word, is good.” Of course, that is false. Greed leads to chaos, always. And now we have it.

Capitalism is the best economic system on Earth because it allows people to work hard and reach their potential. But like everything else, capitalism can be perverted. Bad guys can game the system.

That’s why the federal government set up the Securities and Exchange Commission and other putative safeguards - to protect the folks from corporate criminals and incompetents. It is simply wrong for a CEO to bankrupt a company and walk away with a multimillion-dollar severance package. But that has happened at Merrill Lynch and many other badly mismanaged companies.

Greedheads aside, there is something called “economic justice.” If Americans lose faith in capitalism, if they think the system is rigged, the United States will enter a steep decline.

That could happen this time around. Poor leaders like Mr. Cox and Mr. Frank are just a small part of a corrupt system now harming honest Americans. Whoever the next president is must put an end to this.

Bill O’Reilly is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of the Fox News show “The O’Reilly Factor” and author of the book “Culture Warrior.”

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