The financial crisis remain an enigma, something kind of distant and amorphous. This column made it sound a lot more real, and the comments are spirited as well.
Even if Congress backs the Paulson bail-out, the $700 billion blast cannot save the US, Britain or the world from the deepest economic slump since the Thirties. If Congress balks, God help us. The credit system is suffering a heart attack. Inter-bank lending is paralysed. Funds are accepting zero interest on US Treasury notes for the first time since Pearl Harbour, because no bank account is safe.
Wherever you look – dollar, euro, sterling Libor (the rate at which banks lend to each other), or spreads on credit derivatives – the stress has reached breaking point. If borrowers cannot roll over the three-month loans that are the lifeblood of business, they will default en masse.
“Money markets are imploding. If no action is taken very soon, there is a significant risk that the global economy will collapse,” says BNP Paribas. Almost every trader says much the same thing. So does US treasury secretary Hank Paulson, who as Toby Harnden reports, literally dropped on bended knee to beg help from Democrats on Capitol Hill.
Republican refuseniks – defying their president – have a grim responsibility if they now tip America over the edge, setting off the “adverse feedback loop” that so terrifies the US Federal Reserve. Like players in a Greek tragedy, they seem determined to repeat the “liquidation” policy that led to the Great Depression – and to Democrat ascendancy for years.
Lehman Brothers’ collapse showed the chain of inter-connections that can cause mayhem across a clutch of different markets. That was just one bank – albeit with $630 billion or so in liabilities.
Credit is the lubricant of a modern economy. A seizure now would probably lead to the bankruptcy of General Motors and Ford in short order, but it would not stop with the US car industry. Waves of job losses would set off a self-feeding spiral. Yet more people would default on their mortgages (and car loans), driving house prices down even further. That, in turn, would threaten the solvency of the best banks. That is the way to Armaggedon.
As Mr Paulson says, US taxpayers are on the hook whether they like it or not. A $700 billion fund to soak up toxic debt and stabilise the credit market is the cheapest way out. It is certainly cheaper than Depression.
No way out. I really can’t say it enough: Get rid of your dollars. At times like this, history shows, the safest place for your money is stuff, or foreign currency. ABD.
This is not the time to give the keys to the kingdom to a clown.
Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.