In recent months, conservative economists and editorialists have tried to pin the blame for the unholy international financial mess on subprime lending and subprime borrowers. If bureaucrats and social activists hadn't pressured firms to lend to the working poor, the narrative goes, we'd still be partying like it was 2005 and Bear Stearns would be a going concern. The Wall Street Journal's editorial page has repeatedly heaped blame on the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), the 1977 law aimed at preventing redlining in minority neighborhoods. Fox Business Network anchor Neil Cavuto in September proclaimed that "loaning to minorities and risky folks is a disaster."
This line of reasoning is absurd on several levels. Many of the biggest subprime lenders weren't banks, and thus weren't covered by the CRA. Nobody forced Bear Stearns to borrow $33 for every dollar of assets it had, and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac didn't coerce highly compensated CEOs into rolling out no-money-down, exploding adjustable-rate mortgages. Banks will lose just as much money lending to really rich white guys like former Lehman Brothers CEO Richard Fuld as they will on loans to poor people of color in the South Bronx.