Working Papers

Catalyst of Disaster

Subprime Mortgage Securitization and the Roots of the Great Recession

The main cause of the “Great Recession” was the unraveling of the mortgage secularization industry beginning in 2007. What had been a relatively small niche market at the beginning of the 1990s, was transformed into the core activity of the financial sector of the American economy from 1993-2007. Indeed, at its peak in 2003, the financial sector was generating 40% of the profits in the American economy with around 10% of the labor force (Fligstein and Shin, 2007; Krippner 2010). These profits were mostly being made from businesses centering on and related to the selling of mortgages and the creation of various forms of mortgage back securities and related financial products. The mortgage business, at its peak in 2003, represented a $4 trillion industry, about 245% of the American economy. Beginning in late 2006 and early 2007, the financial sector fell apart. That crisis threatened the existence of the entire banking system in America. As banks panicked, the system of granting access to short and long term credit for both businesses and consumers threatened to shut the economy down. In response to this uncertainty, consumers and businesses stopped buying. This created a downward spiral in the economy and the most severe crisis in American capitalism since 1929 rapidly took hold.