The seeds of financial disaster were sown more than thirty years ago when three smart, ambitious men, working sometimes in concert - allies to a cause they all believed in - and sometimes in opposition - competitors trying to gain advantage over each other - created a shiny new financial vehicle called the mortgage-backed security. In the simplest of terms, it allowed Wall Street to scoop up loans made to people who were buying homes, bundle them together by the thousands, and then resell the bundle, in bits and pieces, to investors. Lewis Ranieri, the messianic bond trader who ran the Salomon Brothers mortgage desk and whose role in the creation of this new product would be immortalized in the best-selling book Liar's Poker, was one. Larry Fink, his archrival at First Boston, who would later go on to found BlackRock, one of the world's largest asset management firms, and who served as a key adviser to the government during the financial crisis was another. David Maxwell, the chief executive of the Federal National Mortgage Association, a quasi-governmental corporation known as Fannie Mae, was the third. With varying degrees of fervor they all thought they were doing something not just innovative but important. When they testified before Congress - as they did often in those days - they stressed no (heaven forbid) the money their firms were going to reap from mortgage-backed securities. but rather all the ways these newfangled bonds were making the American Dream of owning one's own home possible. Ranieri, in particular, used to wax rhapsodically about the benefits of mortgage-backed securities for homeowners, claiming, correctly, that the investor demand for the mortgage bonds that he and others were creating was increasing the level of home ownership in the country.
-Bethany McLean and Joe Nocera, All The Devils Are Here