There has been no shortage of commentators and players willing to vouch that this is the worst financial crisis they have ever seen. Equally, there has been no shortage of bailout moves by the Federal Reserve–remedies that put “the Greenspan Put” to shame in their magnitude.
And yet the market meltdown continues, and the casualties continue to mount, with Bear Stearns the latest–and surely not the last.
In all this, no one yet seems to have posed the question of “why now?”. Why is the crisis clearly more severe this time than ever before, and why are remedies that worked relatively quickly in the past (remember the fast turnaround of the market after October 1987, and the rapid recovery from the rescue of Long Term Capital Management?) failling today?
The answer is, simply, that the world has never in its history carried the level of debt that it is carrying today. The remedies that worked when America’s private debt to GDP ratio was a mere 150 percent (see Figure 1) are inadequate when that ratio is 275 percent.