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That Speeding Freight Train You Hear: The Next Financial Crisis

• Gary North via

The mainstream financial media are running stories on the next financial crisis. This is unheard of two years into a so-called economic recovery. So weak is this recovery that the old pre-2008 confidence has not returned.

The first sign that "this time, it's different," was Treasury Secretary Geithner's statement, which received widespread coverage, that there will be another crisis.

On May 18, The Daily Beast ran a story on Geithner's unexpected appearance at the initial screening of an HBO movie, Too Big to Fail, which dramatizes the crisis of late 2008, during which time Geithner was president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. In an interview, Geithner said this. "It will come again. There will be another storm. But it's not going to come for a while."

That was surely forthright for a sitting Treasury Secretary. He was not specific, but to say that another crisis will come was unique. He added this: "It's not going to be possible for people to capture risk with perfect foresight and knowledge."

That was amazingly forthright. It points to the reality of the naive faith of regulators that they can devise formulas that will keep the system from being hit by some unexpected mini-crisis that will trigger a wider systemic breakdown. He acknowledged that risk analysis, based on statistics, cannot deal with uncertainty: events outside the law of large numbers that serves as the basis of statistics. Ludwig von Mises discussed this in 1949, and Frank H. Knight wrote a book on this in 1921: Risk, Uncertainty, and Profit. Nassim Taleb has called this a black swan event. Whatever we call it, such an event torpedoes the best-laid plans of government regulators as well as statisticians advising leveraged banks.

"Things were falling apart," Geithner said. "We had no playbook and no tools. . . . Life's about choices. We had no good choices. . . . We allowed this huge financial system to emerge without any meaningful constraints. . . . The size of the shock was larger than what precipitated the Great Depression."

That is the official government line, which Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson used to persuade Congress to fork over $700 billion in TARP loans. It justified the Federal Reserve's swaps at face value of liquid Treasury debt in its portfolio for unmarketable toxic assets held by large banks. It justified the 2009 stimulus package of another $830 billion.


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