I’ve been looking forward to Gretchen Morgenson’s book on the financial meltdown for months. Her columns in the New York Times are some of the most reliable reporting and clear thinking you can find on the crisis, and I discovered from her appearances on Fresh Air what a gifted communicator she is.
Her book with co-author Joshua Rosner, Reckless Endangerment, is now out, and I when read it for our interview on the show I was surprised. Though she’s relentlessly chronicled the greed and recklessness of Wall Street and the failures of government regulators, much of her new book focuses on Fannie Mae, the government-backed mortgage giant.
The book opens with President Clinton announcing an initiative to expand home ownership in 1994. Morgenson and Rosner write that the Partners in Home-ownership program “wound up decimating the middle class. It left Americans in this large economic group under a mountain of debt and withdrawing cash from their homes as a way to offset stagnant incomes.”
While the book is also very tough on Wall Street bankers and feckless regulators, much of it focuses on abuses by Fannie Mae managers, especially former CEO James Johnson.
When I spoke to Morgenson, I noted the book will likely comfort conservatives who blame the crisis on mis-guided government policies that sought to push home ownership onto those who couldn’t afford it.
You can hear her response on Fresh Air, which airs at 3 and 7 today on WHYY. If you’re outside the Philly area, you can find a station here. And you can always listen or download the show at the Fresh Air website.