I have little doubt that some, if not many, cases of malfeasance will emerge. But what we conveniently neglect is the fact that much of this crisis was brought upon us by the good intentions of good people.
For decades, starting with Jimmy Carter's Community Reinvestment Act of 1977, there has been bipartisan agreement to use government power to expand homeownership to people who had been shut out for economic reasons or, sometimes, because of racial and ethnic discrimination. What could be a more worthy cause? But it led to tremendous pressure on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac -- who in turn pressured banks and other lenders -- to extend mortgages to people who were borrowing over their heads. That's called subprime lending. It lies at the root of our current calamity.
Were there some predatory lenders? Of course. But only a fool or a demagogue -- i.e., a presidential candidate -- would suggest that this is a major part of the problem.
Was there misbehavior on Wall Street? The wheels of justice will grind. But why wait for justice? If a really good catharsis will allow a return of rationality to Capitol Hill -- yielding a clean rescue package that will actually save the economy -- go for it.
Capping executive pay is piffle. What we need are a few exemplary hangings. Public hangings. On television. Pick a few failed investment firms, lead their CEOs in chains through the canyons of Manhattan and give the mob satisfaction. Better still, precede the auto-da-fe -- fire is highly telegenic -- with 24-hour reality-TV coverage of their recantations, lamentations and final visits with the soon-to-be widowed. The ratings would dwarf "American Idol," and the ad revenue alone would make the perfect down payment on the $700 billion.
Whatever it takes to clear our heads.