The beauty-contest analogy helps explain why real-estate developers, condo flippers, and financial investors continued to invest in the real-estate market and in the mortgage-securities market, even though many of them may have believed that home prices had risen too far. Alan Greenspan and other free-market economists failed to recognize that, during a speculative mania, attempting to “surf” the bubble can be a perfectly rational strategy. According to orthodox economics, professional speculators play a stabilizing role in the financial markets: whenever prices rise above fundamentals, they step in and sell; whenever prices fall too far, they step in and buy. But history has demonstrated that much of the so-called “smart money” aims at getting in ahead of the crowd, and that only adds to the mispricing...-- from Rational Irrationality by John Cassidy
...During the Depression, the Glass-Steagall Act was passed in order to separate the essential utility aspects of the financial system—customer deposits, check clearing, and other payment systems—from the casino aspects, such as investment banking and proprietary trading. That key provision was repealed in 1999. The [Obama] Administration has shown no interest in reinstating it, which means that “too big to fail” financial supermarkets, like Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase, will continue to dominate the financial system. And, since the federal government has now demonstrated that it will do whatever is necessary to prevent the collapse of the largest financial firms, their top executives will have an even greater incentive to enter perilous lines of business. If things turn out well, they will receive big bonuses and the value of their stock options will increase. If things go wrong, the taxpayer will be left to pick up some of the tab.