Financial crisis: Western world will become significantly less wealthy
OPINION – Corporate America has just lost a chunk of its value the size of the Indian economy. In one fell swoop, the House of Representatives has applied a sledgehammer to the American economy.
The staggering plunge in the value of publicly quoted stocks in the US last night – a $1.2 trillion fall – shows more clearly than anything else just how much it had been holding out for a financial bail-out.
Even so, the longer you stare at a screen of the Dow Jones or FTSE 100, the more abstract it seems. So this is what it means:
It means millions more Americans, and hundreds of thousands more Britons, will lose their jobs; it means the recession will be deeper and more protracted than previously feared; it means borrowing costs will increase on both sides of the Atlantic. Companies will cut back on investment. Pension funds will be depleted.
The Western world, in short, will become significantly less wealthy.
There is still time for US policymakers to rescue the deal, but not much. Financial markets are no longer just chaotic, but are close to complete collapse. A number of banks, already on the edge, will be pushed that bit closer to the precipice as a result.
As the past few weeks have shown, companies can go bust very, very quickly. When they collapse they are very difficult, if not impossible, to put back together again.
The free market can be very creative but it can also be immensely destructive. This is one of those points where the scale of destruction is potentially so great that it could set the economy back years.
This is why so many people – and not just the politicians putting the deal together – are warning that if the deal fails entirely we could be facing a second Great Depression.
The big mistake policymakers made in the 1930s was to allow too many banks to fail. This caused such a financial earthquake that it led to a decade of hardship.
The Troubled Asset Relief Program was not a perfect template for dealing with struggling banks. However, to dangle it in front of markets and then snatch it back again was an improbably unwise move.
Aside from the certain fact that shares will plunge, few can guess what today will bring.
There is a growing chance of some co-ordinated interest rate cuts from central banks.
This may not solve everything, but in these circumstances, policymakers will be using every tool at their disposal to ensure that markets do not collapse entirely.