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Uncontrolled Lending to Consumers Spawned the Financial Crisis

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“the broad claim that the financial crisis has nothing to do with fraud or consumer protection dissolves in the face of the facts: the crisis can be attributed to failures of consumer protection, including those that enabled lenders to make the loans Zywicki decries.”

Posted: 05 Mar 2010                         The Baseline Scenario

This guest post was contributed by Norman I. Silber, a Professor of Law at Hofstra Law School, and Jeff Sovern , a Professor of Law at St. John’s University. They were principal drafters of a statement signed by more than eighty-five professors who teach in fields related to banking and consumer law, supporting H. 3126, which would create an independent Consumer Financial Protection Agency.  Some of the research on which this essay is based is drawn from an article by Professor Sovern.

Did under-regulated lending to consumers play a big part in destabilizing the financial system? Many knowledgeable people say yes, but Professor Todd Zywicki disagrees. (“Complex Loans Didn’t Cause the Financial Crisis,” Wall Street Journal, February 19, 2010).  He claims that the present troubles resulted from the “rational behavior of borrowers and lenders responding to misaligned incentives, not fraud or borrower stupidity.”

Professor Zywicki’s argument enjoys, at least, the modest virtue of technical accuracy, because many objectionable misleading sales practices and agreements that lenders used were, and continue to be, unfortunately, quite legal.  Lending practices may have been regularly misleading and confusing and reckless-but fraudulent?  Well, no, usually not unlawful by the remarkably low standards of the day.   But that in itself is an argument for saying consumer protection laws failed.

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