Officials must understand why and how the public lost confidence in the federal government’s ability to manage financial turmoil. Officials outsourced to private parties responsibility for monitoring and policing the safety-net exposures that were bound to be generated by weaknesses in the securitization process. When the adverse consequences of this imprudent arrangement first emerged, officials claimed for months that the difficulties that short-funded, highly leveraged firms were facing in rolling over debt reflected only a shortage of aggregate liquidity and not individual-firm shortages of economic capital. Then, in September 2008, the president and other officials created an unwise sense of urgency that delays in implementation show to have been greatly exaggerated.
That authorities and financiers violated common-law duties of loyalty, competence, and care they owe to taxpayers indicates a massive incentive breakdown in industry and government. Taxpayers deserve a thorough-going reorientation of: (1) how regulatory agencies report on their regulatory performance and back-room interactions with Congress and the Treasury, and (2) the contract structures and performance measures used by the financial industry and its government overseers.