Destroyed = The true State of the Union
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Bear Stearns - what does it mean for you?
Monday, 17 March 2008
What does the Bear Stearns collapse mean for the world? What does it mean for you?
It means, quite simply, that we could be hurtling, when we least expected it, to a slump on a scale similar to that of the 1930s, and that your family may not escape its consequences.
What’s more, there seems to be very little that world governments can do about it, and that is the most worrying aspect of all. What is happening is bigger than the combined strength of the planet’s most powerful politicians and central bankers, as we have seen over the past six months.
Billions upon billions of dollars have been lent to the banking system and yet more billions spent on government stimulus to the economy in the US and elsewhere. To little avail. As with the Great Depression, though, there is also a sense that the orthodox economic frameworks - ideas, forecasting techniques, policies, personalities, imagination, brain power - aren't quite up to the current challenge. If there is a John Maynard Keynes out there who can explain how we arrived here and, more importantly, how we escape the human misery a slump will bring, he has yet to show him or herself.
Nor are parallels as remote as the hungry thirties. Japan is still living through what we may be about to encounter; a long post-bubble slump, which in their case started in 1988. Even now, despite the ubiquitous success of their exports and their tidy orderly society, the Japanese economy has been one of the world’s great basket cases. It has barely grown for two decades, while the nation’s banking and property markets sort themselves out after the crazed boom of the 1980s. Bear Stearns is a signal that something of the same could be about to hit the rest of the developed world.
Bear Stearns confirms the terrible truth that the credit crunch isn’t some abstruse piece of financial jargon that will have no impact on anyone’s life outside the City, Wall Street and a few other financial districts. It can crunch you, too. Bear Stearns went down because of a run on the bank – like with our own Northern Rock, except with Bear Stearns there were no retail customers. Really it was a matter of confidence.
Bear Stearns, maybe like Northern Rock, was unlucky, because the rumours got around it was in difficulties and the other banks wouldn’t lend to it. But then increasingly the bank won’t lend to each other or many of the rest of us either. That means that the business that employs you, that new car loan you’re after or that remortgaging deal you're looking for will all be affected - credit will be much harder and sometime more expensive to obtain. It means your property will be worth less. It means you may lose your job. It means the property market generally will become depressed, with falling values destroying confidence. Falling shares means lower pensions. It means people spending less, and profits and jobs suffering too. And with rising unemployment comes more defaults on mortgages, plummeting prices, another dive in confidence and so on - a vicious circle. If an institution the size of Bear Stearns can be brought low in the downward spiral, so can most of us. So Bear Stearns means a lot. Yes, it is that bad.