The 2008 Crisis occurred when private US banks became so distrustful of one another’s balance sheet risk that interbank liquidity dried up triggering a systemic implosion in the unregulated derivatives market, particularly in Credit Default Swaps (which was a $50-60 trillion market at the time).
The Federal Reserve dealt with this situation by suspending accounting policies (permitting banks to lie about their true balance sheet risk), offering to backstop those banks with the greatest derivative exposure (JP Morgan, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, and Citigroup), shifting trillions of dollars’ worth of toxic debt to the US balance sheet and then funneling trillions of new dollars into the banks most at risk of a derivative collapse (the banks I listed before).
In simple terms, the Fed attempted to paper over the problems of insolvency that were plaguing the large financial institutions. This scheme could have worked if the Fed had demanded that the large banks decrease their leverage, cease making the deals that created these problems and began regulating the derivatives market.
However, the Fed is run by spineless academics not financial professionals or real businesspeople. So the Fed did not implement any meaningful reform. All it did was temporarily slow the pace of systemic implosion and give Wall Street a “get out of jail free” pass.
From a philosophical perspective, the Fed removed the notion of “risk of failure” from Wall Street’s collective mind. As anyone who’s studied human behavior can tell you, without consequence for one’s actions most people will take their bad behaviors to the limit (I am not saying that there is no such thing as a principled person or one who lives a moral life… but generally speaking, most people, especially those who work on Wall Street where every move in focused on making more money, will take things to the max).
As a result of this, Wall Street went back to doing what caused the Financial Crisis in the first place: increasing leverage, fleecing clients, and paying its employees’ excessive salaries.
As a result of this, the financial system is once again overleveraged. Meanwhile, the large banks continue to be insolvent due to their gargantuan derivative exposure. Put another way, the financial system is primed for another 2008 episode. The very same issues that caused 2008 remain in place. Leverage is far too high. And the unregulated derivatives market remains a multi-hundred trillion dollar problem.
So this time around it will sovereign nations collapsing instead of just US banks. Yes, entire countries will default whether it be Greece, Italy, Spain, OR the US. There is no way we’ll be paying our debts off.
This in turn will kick off another 2008 episode as all the over-leveraged players (read: EVERYONE) will have to sell positions to meet margin/ redemption calls. However, this time around we’ll also see civil unrest as people lose their social safety nets (unemployment, social security, etc).
What will follow will be the equivalent of 2008 all over again, along with food shortages, civil unrest, outbreaks in crime, bank holidays, and the like. It will, in short, be like what’s going on in the Middle East today (though NATO won’t be bombing us).
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