In all the discussion of the American sub-prime mortgage market, few people have pointed out that the US government actually compels banks to make loans to poor people in poor neighbourhoods – regardless of whether those loans are prudent and are likely to be repaid.
It started with the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977, which aimed to support community groups, but in 1995 the Act was extended and beefed up, giving regulators far more powers to punish banks who refused to lend to people in poor urban neighbourhoods – so-called ‘redlining’ – because they considered the risks too high in those particular areas.
Congress's idea, obviously, was to extend to poorer people the same rights and enjoyment of home ownership that the middle-class majority possessed. But in fact it precipitated the banks into giving loans to some rather shaky people. Quite simply, they feared retribution by the regulators if they did not.
As a result, sub-prime loans mushroomed in the late 1990s. Not too bad for as long as the US economy was booming. But booms inevitably burn out and then the banks started to realize the magnitude of their dodgy contracts. And now, the whole world is being sucked into this crisis, and ordinary, prudent bank customers find themselves and their money frighteningly exposed. That's the cost of American political correctness. Thanks, guys.