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We pretty much know at this point that Jeffrey Epstein is the Forrest Gump of evil, but it still managed to wow me this morning when a tweet crossed my timeline that it’s plausible his investment in — and possible subsequent redemption from — a fund at Bear Stearns was the match that set off the 2008 financial fire:
A wild plot twist I was not aware of until today: JE's redemption from Bear Stearns High-Grade Structure Credit Strategies Enhanced Leverage fund (real heads know this one) due to his impending arrest might have, uh, actually been the proximal cause of the GFC? pic.twitter.com/s4iOHm4w8M
— Quantian (@quantian1) June 7, 2020
Okay, every teacher we’ve ever had has told us not to reflexively trust Wikipedia as a source, so you can go ahead and read citations 63, 67, and 68 if you want to vet these claims yourself. Bear in mind that citation 68 cites an unnamed investor who sought to redeem his investment, but that the number matches what Epstein reportedly put in. This New York magazine timeline of the Bear Stearns collapse has more context on the chain of events set off by the failure of the High-Grade Structure Credit Strategies Enhanced Leverage fund.
The whole banking system had so many interconnected loans and investments with each other that it threatened to be a very messy game of dominos. Even with a massive government bailout, the system took years to recover.
Look: we all know now that the financial system was a house of cards at this point. Mortgages were doled out essentially on a belief that housing values never went down, borrowing at individual and institutional levels were grossly irresponsible, and the risk was spread across the whole economy as banks packaged the mortgages — and especially subprime mortgages to risky lenders — into securities that were subsequently even more dangerously leveraged.
So we were looking at the equivalent of a gigantic forest filled with dry tinder. It’s still fascinating to think Jeffrey Epstein may have been the one to light the match.