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FCIC Urges: "Learn From History"

31 January 2011 - News - Editor

Many would agree with the sentiment that hindsight is the only exact science, or that hindsight is 20/20, and while some may go with the cliché of 'no use crying over spilt milk', there are times when analyzing exactly what went wrong is a valuable exercise, particularly when wanting to avoid a repeat performance. In the United States, the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission (FCIC) was given the weighty task of investigating the causes, both domestic and global, of the 2007-2010 financial crisis, with the primary goal of correcting flaws in the system to prevent this type of crisis from every taking place again, but also to bring to light willful fraud and abuse that contributed to the financial chaos that went global.

The 10-member FCIC, also known as the Angelides Commission after committee chairman Phil Angelides, was given the power to subpoena witnesses and documents for testimony as it saw fit. The FCIC held its first session on January 13, 2010, hearing the testimonies of a number of banking officials. By the end of 2010, the commission had heard and weighed the testimony of scores of witnesses from government, academia and business, before reporting its findings in January 2011 – the conclusion being that the crisis could have been avoided.

Contributing factors that were identified included:

  • Widespread failures in financial regulation, including the Federal Reserve's failure to stem the tide of toxic mortgages.
  • Dramatic breakdowns in corporate governance including too many financial firms acting recklessly and taking on too much risk.
  • An explosive mix of excessive borrowing and risk by households and Wall Street, that put the financial system on a collision course with crisis.
  • Key policy makers ill prepared for the crisis, lacking a full understanding of the financial system they oversaw.
  • Systemic breaches in accountability and ethics at all levels
  • (Taken from the Financial Inquiry Commission Press Release of January 27,2011, and an excerpt from the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission Report's Conclusions)

    While finger-pointing doesn't solve the problem, Angelides noted that the crisis was a result of both action and inaction, and unless all parties concerned make a concerted effort to learn from history, it could happen again. The commission revealed that warning signs had been ignored or discounted as insignificant, and the danger lies in the fact that the US financial system has remained essentially unchanged where significant changes are called for.

    So while stock market investors will no doubt be taking note of the findings of the FCIC, they are sure to be encouraged by the fact that the final quarter of 2010 has shown a marked improvement in consumer spending. More good news is that economists are predicting a strengthening of economic growth spurred on by US employers' plans to hire more workers in the first half of 2011, according to the results of a survey by the National Association for Business Economics. More jobs, more consumer dollar and a nudging along of economic recovery.

     


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