For almost 20 years I was the most senior risk management executive at Fannie Mae. At its peak, Fannie Mae was responsible for financing more than one out of every four home loans in the United States and was the cornerstone of the most successful mortgage finance system in the world. But in the mid-2000s, that system broke down catastrophically. Credit standards weakened dramatically, and highly risky loans made to borrowers with little ability to repay them fueled a boom in the mortgage and housing markets that sped to a spectacular collapse, triggering a global financial crisis and the worst U.S. recession in modern times.

The mortgage meltdown was the culmination of a decade-long fight for control of the U.S. mortgage finance system, ...

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