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There's plenty of blame for the housing meltdown

Bank failures. Tighter credit. A roller-coaster ride on the stock market. And a federal bailout.

How did we get into this mess?

Many of the troubles of today can be traced back to millions of mortgage loans made in recent years.

Homeowners were unable to make the payments on many of those loans. The defaults on the loans spread to Wall Street, where investors stopped buying the loans. It spread to banks, which became overwhelmed by mortgage investments that turned bad. And now it has spread around the world.

Who’s to blame?

It depends on whom you ask. Experts say many institutions and individuals played a role in creating the mess, from Wall Street to Main Street, from Fannie Mae to the Securities and Exchange Commission, from former Sen. Phil Gramm to Presidents Clinton and Bush.

Larry Lockwood, the C.R. Williams professor of financial services at Texas Christian University, said perhaps everyone is to blame.

"This might be oversimplifying things, but it might be the result of a self-indulgent society," Lockwood said.

Lockwood said the country’s long-running bull market and the housing boom stoked the conventional wisdom that real estate would never fall in value. That led to heady returns and rampant appreciation at the same time that oversight became more lax and underwriting standards became looser.

"I think in any bull market, toward the end of a bull market we see some speculation and excesses and even some illegal activity," Lockwood said.

At the end of the bull run, there is plenty of blame to go around.

"As far as who’s to blame, there are lot of entities who can be blamed for where we are right now," he said.

Karen Cogan, a psychologist at the University of North Texas counseling center who also has a private practice, said pointing the finger can make consumers feel better about the crisis.

"When we are out of control, we look for a way to feel in control," she said.

It’s also human nature, Cogan said. Children are conditioned from an early age to assign blame, something that continues into adulthood, she said.

"The more complex the issue, the more people can be blamed," she said.

Here are some of the groups and institutions widely being blamed for the meltdown, and the reasons why they may or may not be at fault.

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