The roots of a crisis
To kick off our new site, we will publish From Crisis to Recovery, a new book from the OECD Insights series here on the blog, chapter-by-chapter. This book traces the roots and the course of the crisis, how it has affected jobs, pensions and trade, while charting the prospects for recovery.
These chapters are “works in progress” and their content will evolve. Reader comments are encouraged and will be used in shaping the book.
By way of introduction…
The events of 2008 have already passed into history, but they still have the power to take our breath away. Over a matter of months, a succession of earthquakes struck the world’s financial system – the sort of events that might normally happen only once in a century.
In reality, the warning signs were already there in 2007, when severe pressure began building in the subprime securities market. Then, in March 2008, the investment bank and brokerage Bear Stearns collapsed. More was to come. Early in September, the United States government announced it was taking control of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, two huge entities that underpin mortgage lending in the U.S. Then, in the middle of that month, came news of the collapse of investment bank Lehman Brothers. A fixture on Wall Street, Lehman had been a home to the sort of traders and dealers that novelist Tom Wolfe once dubbed “masters of the universe”. Around the same time, another of Wall Street’s legends, Merrill Lynch, avoided Lehman’s fate only by selling itself to the Bank of America.
It wasn’t just investment banks that found themselves in trouble. The biggest insurer in the U.S., American Insurance Group, teetered on the brink of failure thanks to bad bets it had made on insuring complex financial securities. It survived only after billions of dollars of bailouts from Washington.
How did the stock markets react? In New York, the Dow Jones Index fell 777 points on 29 September, its biggest-ever one-day points fall. That was a mirror of wider fears that the world’s financial system was on the brink of meltdown. The mood was summed up on the cover of The Economist, not usually given to panic, which depicted a man standing on the edge of a crumbling cliff accompanied by the headline, “World on the edge”.
What happened? Find out by reading the full chapter here The Roots of a Crisis