This week I heard a great program on “This American Life” (NPR) regarding the housing and mortgage crisis and how the heart of this problem is simply greed. Well, the problem is pretty complex. But, what is clear is that all involved–from the homeowner, insurance agent, Wall Street broker, to Banking Organizations looking to invest–everyone either turned a blind eye for personal gain or knowingly sought something that was too good to be true. You hear the stories of individuals choosing massive loans because they can (without any income verification), agents making 100,000 dollars per month selling loans that they knew couldn’t be repaid, large brokers who felt they HAD to satisfy larger companies desires for these bundled mortgages because they could get such a better return on investment. And everyone conspired to think that it was all going to work out. They had data on their side (unfortunately telling them about the predictions of loan worthy individuals repaying their loans but assuming that those completely unable to pay back loans would act like those who could pay them back), they had larger corporations demanding to invest and willing to offer mortgages too good to be true. A classic case of group-think!
If these kinds of situations interest you and you are wondering, “how in the world did anyone fall for this kind of thing?” then you should check out the link above and listen on-line.
As an aside, greed and group-think doesn’t just happen on a secular level. Years ago, many Christian organizations (along with some large Philadelphia organizations like the Academy of Art, UPENN, etc.) got sucked up into a ponzi scheme better known as New Era Philanthropy. It was a classic case of nonprofit greed (give .5 million dollars to Mr. Bennett and get back 1 million in 6 months). It was too good to be true but most only focused on the good part. Lots of well-meaning folk, including my own Biblical Seminary, came out quite wounded.