Monday, December 12, 2011

Nostalgia. Not.

Having an expansive sense of time—thus remembering the past and looking far ahead—produces sobriety, understanding...and also disgust. Here I bring a graphic that shows at a glance just how effectively we’ve always managed to manage our financial sector. The graphic looks back over two hundred years, dividing the time into decades. Bars show decades in which a major financial melt-down took place, and its date replaces the decade’s number. Thus in the 1810s there was the major crisis of 1819. For the more recent events I’m also showing the name we’ve come to attach to the troubles, beginning with the Panic of 1907. In every one of these cases, massive bank failures have taken place. Here is the image:

It was my good fortune to have arrived in the United States in the wide grey period of the twentieth century (getting here in 1951). By the time the S&L meltdown came we were safely in a home of our own. The first financial crisis that actually cost us like real money was the Great Recession. But as this history shows, it's difficult to escape one of these blue bars hurting you, sooner or later, unless your life is rather short.

What’s striking here is that, without serious interventions, such as those that began after the Great Depression, these crises occurred with a kind of regularity at roughly twenty-year intervals, about the time it takes for a generation to forget how bad things had once been. Hence deregulation, to permit easier gaming of the blessed Market, takes hold and produces the next Surprise!!!

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