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Lehman Blame Game Still Played Four Years, $12.8 Trillion Later

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- When it comes to the financial crisis, time does not heal all wounds.

Just in time for the four-year anniversary of the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers, market watchdog Better Markets published a report saying that the "Wall Street-caused financial crisis" has cost $12.8 trillion, while placing little blame on anybody else.

While the timing of the release for the Lehman anniversary is apt, the Better Markets report also ties into the presidential election, as the authors continually pound "Wall Street," while leaving no blame for Washington policymakers, including those who pressured Fannie Mae (FNMA) and Freddie Mac (FMCC) to lower their credit standards in the name of "affordable housing."

Better Markets says that "the Great Repression was triggered by a combination of wild speculation and risky bets on Wall Street." While there certainly was "wild speculation," it was not only on Wall Street. The speculation occurred among players involved in all aspects of real estate.

There were declining credit standards -- including low- or no-documentation lending. In addition, a growing home loan securitization market helped by the ratings agencies who placed high investment-grade ratings on some dicey mortgage paper. Oh, and by the way, questionable underwriting by community banks who lent to home developers without requiring the borrowers to have any "skin in the game," including banks' promotion of "option-payment" mortgage loans featuring "negative amortization," and the "bubble mentality" that real estate prices would never decline, all fed the crisis.

Sure, there's plenty of blame for Wall Street, but Fannie Mae (FNMA) and Freddie Mac (FMCC) -- which in 2010 "owned or guaranteed roughly half of all outstanding mortgages in the United States, [while financing] 63 percent of the new mortgages originated that year," according to the Congressional Budget Office -- operated under federal charters, with implied government guarantees, and were heavily pressured by Washington lawmakers to lower their credit standards in the name of "affordable housing."

The thinking in Washington seems to have been that the best way to help lower-income consumers afford housing was to make it easier for them to borrow money, by forcing lenders to make some pretty risky loans.

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