The CRA/repeal of Glass-Steagal caused the financial crisis

I hear on these boards that one or the other of these acts of Congress caused the financial crisis, based on the ideological persuasion of the poster. I usually skip over this thinking that it’s partisan bullshit and that the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Is there straight dope on this or is it the economic equivalent of how many angels can dance on the point of a pin?





Neither of them caused the financial crisis. Glass-Steagall made the financial crisis far worse than it would have been by removing a buffer between the banking sector and market crashes. The CRA made the housing crash far worse than it would have been by artificially buoying house prices.

Thing is, the latter was aimed at increasing minority home ownership, which has all sorts of benefits. The former was aimed at increasing profits, and that was pretty much it.

I agree with the last poster except that I don’t think the CRA made the housing crash far worse than it would have been, at least by artificially bouying housing prices. It did however provide a successful model for non-traditional loans: namely, to people who otherwise have steady jobs trying to get a lower-middle-class house who otherwise would not qualify for a loan. Bankers saw that these loans were performing much better than expected and so tried to replicate this success with solid-middle-class people buying upper-middle-class homes, also a type of non traditional loan but for a different reason. That didn’t work out quite as well.

Fair enough. Just worse.

Rarely will anyone find cases like these explained in the media connected to actual research conducted on these questions. To skip the middleman of the media, here’s research conducted by the Federal Reserve on that question:

Bolding added, italics in original.

It should be noted that there is at least one conflicting result from a pair of demographers at Princeton who did not use loan source in their data set and only geographically associated loans and foreclosures by zip code with no information on whether the lenders were CRA regulated or not. I believe the Federal Reserve’s research including the loan source data provide a more rigorous result.

CRA most certainly did not mandate making bad loans. It mandated offering financial services without recourse to “red-lining” and other methods of excluding entire areas. The enforcement stick held by regulators was withholding permission for branches in desirable areas until a bank did business in a less served area.

Mortgage companies and banks got greedy to pick up origination fees which yield current income. They got lazy with regard to their due-diligence which led them to grant unsound loans.

CRA was nothing but a convenient excuse for the greediness and laziness and is now a convenient excuse to cover their own screw-ups.

The repeal of Glass-Steagal led to the formation of Too Big To Fail banks. It mingled the safe, boring banking with the risky, speculative banking. When the speculative activities of these behemoth financial institutions put them at risk of collapse, the government was left with a dilemma. Do we follow market principles and let the banks fail, risking a seize-up of the entire banking system, or do we step in and bail them out, adding to our national debt and increasing moral hazard?

The financial crisis isn’t just the collapse of the housing bubble and Lehman, it includes the depression that followed. We couldn’t deal with what happened in the same way we dealt with the S&Ls. The S&L crisis cost us quite a bit, but no major depository institutions were in danger of failing, the market share of S&Ls was brought down to a more reasonable level, people were prosecuted, and the broader banking industry continued on as before. But this time was different. With the financial institutions being so large, there wasn’t the political will to break off the healthier parts from the insolvent parts, mainly because of the fear that it would collapse the entire economy. So we had to bail them out, rotten parts and all. They’re still in business, and they’re still fundamentally rotten at their cores (rotten financially, not to mention ethically). And if they screw up again, there’s every expectation that we’ll bail them out again, resolution authority be damned. When the market can’t be sure that the banking system is fundamentally healthy, that makes any economic recovery tenuous.

To extend this question a bit, what is the SD on the effect of the CFMA on the financial crisis?

You’re going to have to help me out here. Is an IMC an independent mortgage company? I am not clear on what loan source means either.


The wikipedia article I linked to seemed to claim that the sections of Glass-Steagall that were repealed had been de facto repealed since the sixties anyway. Is this not true?


You’re correct… IMC = Independent Mortgage Company (as opposed to a CRA regulated institution.)

“Loan source” in my post means the company that made the loan, and what type of company it was. I look askance at the Princeton folks who thought they could ignore loan source and lump all the CRA regulated loans together with the non-CRA regulated loans and just identify all loans and foreclosures geographically without regard for who was actually making the loans, then blame the CRA for their findings.

I’d say the formation of Citigroup marked the true end of Glass Steagall, though a culture of regulatory forbearance had already taken hold and weakened it.

As other posters have noted, glass steagall repeal led to the formation of these too big to fail banks. Sure banks like citigroup, Bank of america and Chase had already gotten very large but there was a rush of consolidation in the financial services industry after the repeal of glass steagall. So to the extent that you think the existence of too big to fail banks contributed to the collapse, then you should probably dump some of the blame on the repeal of glass steagall.

The CRA had exactly the effect you describe. Not a lot fo defaults but provided models for subprime mortgages that were later improperly applied to ninja loans.

This had a LOT to do with the collapse of Lehman brothers and the near collapse and bailout of AIG. The CFTC was prohibited from regulating credit default swaps and people started gambling and getting paid for every bet they made.

I’m not sure I’d call it laziness. They appear to have actively tried to write sub-prime loans because of their higher interest rates and thus higher value when resold. Not keeping proper records of where the loans went, and robo-signing and the like, could be called laziness, though I think it is more accurately an example of cost saving (otherwise known as cutting corners.)

Excellent cite, thank you.

Does anyone know of a mortgage banker who blamed CRA for making them write bad loans? I do know of some who claimed lots of bad loans were done to increase home ownership, and thus for good motives and not just for profit. But that was Countrywide, an IMC.

No. If it were true, then Weill/Dimon would not have had to had GS repealed in order to create Citigroup (the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act in 1999.) It literally took an act of Congress to form Citi.

The CRA wasn’t the cause of the meltdown. The securitization of debt and the resulting systemic risk this securitization set up is what caused the meltdown (if you’re looking for one-size-fits-all answers, that is. The whole story is much, much larger, of course.)

I notice that the Wiki cite said this:

But the 1998 affiliation wasn’t truly legal until Congress passed the 1999 act. It was allowed in 1998 under a temporary waiver by the Treasury Department, but this waiver was granted with the expectation that Congress would pass the bill in 1999 - which it did.

Had it not, Citi would have had to break up again.

True, we can’t forget the role of credit rating agencies, poor regulation of mortgage brokers, poor regulations regarding securitization, the interest rate environment that drove real estate prices and drove capital to chase returns being offered by mortgage securities, the “innovative” new reverse amortizations mortgages, etc.

By which you mean the incentive of the ratings agencies to overrate securities (because they were insured by credit default swaps), lack of rules or enforcement of rules preventing lying on mortgage applications, lack of rules regarding disclosure of the underlying mortgages, low interest rates designed to stimulate the economy which required businesses to take on more risk, and, well, I am not sure about the last thing. Is that correct?

I ask because I don’t know that I see anything fundamentally unsound about securitizing debt. I would also assume that insuring the debt lowers the risk on the debt. I thought the problem was that the insurers undercharged for the insurance because they couldn’t adequately assess the risk of the component mortgages.


The CRA and Glass had nothing to do with the 2008 financial crisis.

Lehman, Bear, Merrill, AIG, Fannie, Freddie, and countless others were exempt from both.