BRITAIN is holding an official inquiry into the Iraq war, so why not into the financial crisis of 2008-09? Just such an inquiry began in Washington DC this week and the level of the questioning from the start suggested that it is likely to be rather more pointed than in the cosy atmosphere prevailing at the Chilcott Inquiry in London. “It sounds like selling a car with faulty brakes and then buying an insurance policy on those cars” said Phil Angelides, a former California state treasurer, to Lloyd Blankfein the chief executive of Goldman Sachs. Mr Angelides, who is the chairman of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, asked why Goldman Sachs had continued to sell mortgage-related derivatives to investors even as the company was placing bets that the US housing market and the value of those investments was going to fall. Mr Blankfein had an answer - he always does, which is probably why the FInancial Times recently named him as person of the year 2009.

Also testifying to the Commission at its opening session were the top men of JP Morgan Chase, Morgan Stanley and Bank of America. They were told by Mr Angelides that the inquiry would want to learn not just what mistakes had been made by Wall Street but also whether there had been potential conflicts of interest. President Obama has asked for a report by the end of the year.