When New York Times financial journalist Gretchen Morgenson first pitched a book on the emerging financial crisis in late 2008, publishers expressed trepidation. Their reason? The economy would mellow before her book could reach stores and memories of the subprime lending crises would soon dissipate.
Morgenson’s hunch that the instability would lead to a full-on crisis, in the end, proved right. The Pulitzer Prize winner traced the beginnings of the 2008 financial downturn, including the misbehavior of Wall Street executives, negligent regulators and Washington corruption before an audience of more than 30 people at a Morse College master’s tea Wednesday afternoon. In addition to discussing the results of her investigation into the financial crisis, which is featured in her new book “Reckless Endangerment,” Morgenson discussed how she found her way to financial reporting.
Morgenson began her writing career with a personal finance column in Vogue magazine in the late 1970s. Hoping to gain more experience in the finance world, she left Vogue to work as a stock-broker on Wall Street for three years.
“I learned a lot about where the bodies were buried and how Wall Street worked,” she said.
Though working in finance wasn’t for her, Morgenson said the job gave her necessary skills for a career writing about the financial services industry.
In her latest book, “Reckless Endangerment,” Morgenson and co-author Joshua Rosner took on the 2008 financial crisis and examined home buying regulations dating back to the 1990s. Morgenson said the book was intended to expose those accountable for the recession — particularly mortgage financiers such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
Most authors writing on the financial crisis say that no one can be held responsible or attempt to blame consumers, Morgenson said, adding that she and Rosner thought it was important to try to identify who was at fault.
“We were robbed, but we don’t know by who,” Morgenson said.
Morgenson said she and Rosner found that the finance executives who contributed to the problem are still in power, adding that they are even “revered.” In exposing the culprits, she said she hopes “this episode doesn’t happen again.”
Zola Quao ’13 was one of eight students to arrive early and receive a free copy of “Reckless Endangerment” from Morse Master Frank Keil. Quao said she found Morgenson’s story “enlightening.”
“I think she’s a great female role model in that she’s a woman who has the courage to go against established political and economic powers,” Quao said.
David Koskoff ’61 LAW ’64, who lives near campus and frequently attends Yale events, said he appreciated Morgenson’s extensive critique of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform bill signed into law last summer, which implemented stricter oversight for the financial sector.
However, not everyone in the audience agreed with Morgenson’s suggestion that an open conversation about the crisis at the federal level could prevent another recession.
“I have some qualms about the way in which she seemed to focus almost exclusively on fostering dialogue on Capitol Hill [when talking about] her book,” said Avani Mehta ’15. “She did not seem to believe that dialogue amongst citizens would be an effective way to enact change.”
“Reckless Endangerment” was released in May 2011.