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CNBC's House of Cards shows how greed hit home and left the economy humbled

House of Cards players: Alan Greenspan, David Faber, Kyle Bass

It's a fine mess we're in, and CNBC's latest new documentary, House of Cards, is better than most at explaining how "the greatest financial collapse since the Great Depression" came to roost.

Reporter David Faber, a contributor to CNBC's daily Squawk on the Street, is a telegenic guy who also happens to really know his stuff. He meticulously shows how the bubble burst without being a bubblehead about it in a compelling two-hour film that premieres on Thursday, Feb. 12th at 7 p.m. (central), repeats at 11 p.m. on the same night and also will air on Sunday (8 p.m.) and Monday (7 p.m.).

Naked greed is at the heart of Faber's story. And there's plenty of it to go around among homebuyers, mortgage lenders, banks and, of course, Wall Street.

Faber begins in a neighborhood pockmarked with home foreclosures before rewinding to the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the blow they also struck to the U.S. economy.

"What the country needed was for Americans to start spending," Faber says. And to that end, former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan started cutting interest rates at a time when home prices also were rising faster than incomes.

The magic pill, or so it seemed, was to grant home loans to recipients who couldn't afford a down payment but wanted in on the American dream. Credit requirements were lowballed to the point where seemingly just about anyone qualified. But refinancing to handle increasing "adjustable rate mortgage payments" was fun and easy as long as home values kept rising.

In 2005, an "epidemic of euphoria" on the part of buyers, lenders and loan guaranteers was dubbed "affluenza," Faber notes. But everything began to crash when home prices first hit a ceiling and then started dropping.

Faber lays this out in reasonably understandable terms, although Greenspan among many remains puzzled over the intricacies of Wall Street's driving engine of those times -- the CDO (Collateralized Debt Obligations). Even Narvik, Norway got in on the action, and Faber travels to this small budget-strapped community to interview mayor Karen Kuvaas about the aftershock.

The town never knew what it was buying by investing in CDOs. But it all seemed fool-proof. Kuvaas now says, "I have learned not to trust nice men in Armani suits."

Faber also interviews Dallas-based investor Kyle Bass, one of the few to see the bust coming. He made a huge financial killing by buying credit protection insurance as a hedge against the "mortgage-backed security fever." And no, he doesn't feel guilty about it.

A "Darwinian flush" is needed before affordable housing can again be available to qualified buyers, Bass says.

Greenspan gets the last words after agreeing with Faber's assertion that "greed runs through this."

But a free-market system is prone to such lapses, and they'll happen again, Greenspan says. "The flaws in human nature are such that we cannot change that" (with government regulation). It doesn't work."

House of Cards works very well in explaining a difficult subject. Faber and writer/producer James Jacoby have put together a first-rate look at how easy credit, escalating interest rates and indifference to the long-term consequences served to cave our collective roof in.

GRADE: A-minus