WHO AMONG US ORDINARY FOLK really wants to carry more debt? Most of us would rather steer our personal financial ship somewhere closer to calmer debt-free waters.

But some hedge fund managers, banks, and other financial market players have been doing just the opposite every business day. Or, they were doing so before the recent credit crunch. In the years following the dot.com boom (and bust in 2001), financial institutions took on increasingly risky debt, in the form of securities backed by loans made to high-risk home-buying borrowers. This debt-based strategy initially delivered financial gains, as investors in the United States and around the world profited from Americans' propensity to borrow, buy, and consume.

OK, let's say you've never been into speculative debt-based investing. Instead, you're just glad to be able to pay the rent or make your mortgage payments. Despite your own challenges with debt, your heart goes out, as does ours, to those individuals and families who've taken on larger mortgages than they can manage—for reasons ranging from intentional lender deception, to failure to understand loan terms, to a misguided desire to have a more impressive house. Many families now face foreclosure. And there are others who are still held back from buying a new home by high property prices and tightened credit qualifications.

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October 1, 2007

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