Wednesday, 16 December 2020

Global Economic Crises

Economic crises in one country can have catastrophic consequences in other parts of the world.

The Great Depression of the 1930s

The Great Depression of the 1930s, began as a financial meltdown in the U.S. with millions of Americans losing their jobs and countless companies and farms going bankrupt.  

When the Federal Reserve moved to restrict money supply after the 1929 crash, it led to an even more severe slowdown in economic activity, which increased unemployment and bankruptcies.  

Faced with a severe crisis in funding, U.S. banks called in loans to foreign countries leading to a collapse in the banking system in such debtor countries as Germany and Argentina.

The U.S. government then raised tariffs and quotas on imported goods, ostensibly to protect U.S. companies and farmers.  But this immediately led countries around the world to raise tariffs of their own, creating a vicious cycle where the economic downturn and isolationism in one country led to a greater downturn and even more protectionism in another - and eventually worldwide depression.

Unemployment reached unprecedented levels of more than 25% of the workforce unemployed in in Germany, Great Britain and the United States.  

In Germany, the economic situation was a major cause of the rise in fascism, with Hitler's National Socialist Party seizing power as the economy failed and inflation soared.

The Worldwide Recession of the 2008

The worldwide recession of the 2008 started with the collapse of the housing market in the U.S.  But the enormity of the financial collapse required a level of government and central bank intervention never before attempted.  

When banks began failing across the globe - primarily because of catastrophic investments in U.S. subprime securities funded by unstable, short-term money market borrowing - it was clear that a full-blown worldwide crisis had arrived.  

Stock market declines of more than 50% in some countries presaged a global economic meltdown.  

The concerted actions of the world's central banks, including the U.S. Federal Reserves, the Bank of England, the European Central Bank, and the Bank of Japan, helped calm things down for a while.  But when entire countries began to go bankrupt - like Iceland and Greece - it was clear that the fallout of the 2008 crisis would last for years to come.

The task facing the Fed as well as the other central banks of the world in 2008 was to somehow solve the immediate problem without setting precedents that would exacerbate future crises.

What caused the 2008 recession?

1.  Some say that the reaction of the Federal Reserve to the meltdown of the dot-com sector in 2000 - increasing liquidity and facilitating drastically lower interest rates - set the stage for the housing bubble and the eventual meltdown of financial markets several years later.

2.  Others say the "savings glut" in the emerging economies in Asia as well as in Germany and other export-oriented countries led to the 2008 recession, during which easy access to mortgages led to overheated housing market from Dublin to Madrid to San Francisco.

3.  Some point to the discovery by banks and mortgage companies in the U.S. that they could make a lot of money by providing loans to home buyers who normally wouldn't be given credit.  
  • The market for subprime mortgages really took off when the banks and mortgage companies figured out that they could repackage these dubious mortgages and sell them as bonds to investors through-out the world economy - mainly to cash-flush banks and financial institutions.
  • With hundred of billions of dollars' worth of mortgage-backed securities traded annually by 2007, the market for subprime debt had become bigger than the entire market for U.S. Treasury bonds - the biggest bond market in the world at the time.  

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