The current crisis started with a burst housing bubble, which led to widespread mortgage defaults, and hence to large losses at many financial institutions. That initial shock was compounded by secondary effects, as lack of capital forced banks to pull back, leading to further declines in the prices of assets, leading to more losses, and so on â€” a vicious circle of â€œdeleveraging.â€ Pervasive loss of trust in banks, including on the part of other banks, reinforced the vicious circle.
The downward spiral accelerated post-Lehman. Money markets, already troubled, effectively shut down â€” one line currently making the rounds is that the only things anyone wants to buy right now are Treasury bills and bottled water.
The response to this downward spiral on the part of the worldâ€™s two great monetary powers â€” the United States, on one side, and the 15 nations that use the euro, on the other â€” has been woefully inadequate.
Europe, lacking a common government, has literally been unable to get its act together; each country has been making up its own policy, with little coordination, and proposals for a unified response have gone nowhere.
The United States should have been in a much stronger position. And when Mr. Paulson announced his plan for a huge bailout, there was a temporary surge of optimism. But it soon became clear that the plan suffered from a fatal lack of intellectual clarity. Mr. Paulson proposed buying $700 billion worth of â€œtroubled assetsâ€ â€” toxic mortgage-related securities â€” from banks, but he was never able to explain why this would resolve the crisis.
And Asia’s markets are not happy today.