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Credit Default Swaps on Trial

Credit default swaps, once an esoteric product known only to a small number of sophisticated investors and specialized academics, are now widely blamed as one of the main causes of the financial crisis. That odious reputation is jeopardizing their survival, but to ban them would merely sow the seeds of the next financial bubble.

CHICAGO – The lawsuit filed by the US Securities and Exchange Commission against Goldman Sachs for securities fraud, charging the bank with misrepresenting the way  a collateralized debt obligations (CDO) had been formed, has revived public disgust at credit default swaps (CDS), the instrument used to bet against these CDOs. Before the 2008 financial crisis, CDSs were an esoteric product, known only to a restricted number of sophisticated investors and specialized academics. Today, they are a household name, synonymous with unruly speculation, boundless greed, and, ultimately, systemic instability.

Indeed, CDSs are blamed as one of the main causes of the financial crisis. The legality of Goldman Sachs’ behavior will be determined by a court of law, but CDSs’ odious reputation is jeopardizing the survival of this instrument in the court of public opinion.

Riding the populist wave, several politicians have proposed a ban on CDSs. The recent Greek crisis has further galvanized the anti-CDS camp. After all, isn’t it the fault of the CDS market’s avaricious speculators that Greece was on the verge of default and that Greek public employees have had to endure deep wage cuts?

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