Peter D'Erchia, managing director, U.S. Public Finance for Standard & Poor's, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, April 23, 2010.(AP Photo/Harry Hamburg)
Credit-rating agencies exist to evaluate the safety of debt securities. Imagine for a moment that they had done their job when financial go-getters began churning out bonds backed by sketchy loans and the dream of endlessly rising home prices. Properly labeled as junk, those bonds would have found few buyers. Denied access to the vast reservoirs of capital held in mutual, money-market, and pension funds, the go-getters would have ended up as minor players. And millions of Americans might still have the jobs, homes, retirement savings, and economic security they lost.