In the years since the start of the biggest American financial crisis in generations, the reasons for the meltdown have begun to harden into conventional wisdom. Everyone agrees on the root of the problem: a housing market that ballooned wildly, then collapsed. But exactly where to place the blame is a matter of dispute. Conservatives tend to point the finger at the individual homeowners who took out loans they were incapable of paying back—and ultimately, at the government that pushed for looser lending standards in the first place. Those who lean left point squarely at the financial industry, which flooded the market with deceptive mortgages and then sold the risk off in the form of complicated new securities.
Then there’s Paul Willen, a research economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.