If Hieronymus Bosch were alive today to paint a triptych called "The Garden of Mortgage Delights," we'd recognize most of the characters in the bacchanalia and its hellish aftermath. Looming largest, of course, would be the Luciferian figures of Greed and Excessive Debt. Scurrying throughout would be the Wall Street bankers who turned these burgeoning debts into exotic securities with tangled structures and soporific acronyms -- CDO, MBS, ABS -- that concealed the dangers within. Needless to say, we'd see the smooth-tongued emissaries of the credit-rating agencies assuring people that assets of lead could indeed be transformed into investments of gold. Finally, somewhere past the feckless Fannie Mae executives and the dozing politicians, one final figure would lurk in the shadows: a hulking and barely recognizable monster known as Credit Default Swaps.
What Is A CDS, Or Credit Default Swap?