To simplify an extremely complex and widely unanswered issue, the cause of the 2007-2008 financial crash was ultimately lack of regulation of the financial services market. This, combined with increased risk-taking by firms, allowed borrowers to default on their loans en masse. Inevitably, this caused the housing bubble to burst in 2008 — creating the private debt crisis — which expanded to become a series of sovereign debt crises when states’ central banks decided to bail out (most of) their countries’ private firms.


Much of the current dialogue, during this ten-year anniversary period, has been asking whether, in hindsight, Lehman Brothers, the firm issuing the highest credit to borrowers in the wake of the crash, should have been bailed out. Obviously an issue of huge debate, included is an analysis of the firm’s record-level revenue and earnings prior to the crash. Questions from mainstream economists and ex-directors of Lehman ask why Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanely, with worse pre-2007 records than Lehman, were saved.

Answers generally agree that the Fed could have saved Lehman, but then-Chairman Ben Bernanke decided that it did not qualify for bailout as it did not have sufficient assets, and so legally the government could not authorise it.

Whether these overnight decisions were the right ones remains highly contested, but perhaps debate should shift to focus on how firms were allowed to reach such risky situations in the first place. How is it that banks were able to disguise highly insecure mortgage bonds with triple-A ratings in order to maximise their own revenues? This matter is significant enough to fill a series of books, but in short, this is ultimately why government must have more regulatory power over the financial sector — as an accountable body — and why central banks must control interest and exchange rates.

A decade later and the rise of populism and economic nationalism in a number of major Western states, including the US and UK, has been seen as one of the major implications of the crisis. Debate considers whether this new era of populism and increased preference (in both the public and private realms) for protectionist policy was birthed from the Great Recession. For example, since 2008, Deutsche Bank has decided to place more focus on German customers to restore the domestic economy. Similarly, Trump’s current trade war with China demonstrates the new popularity of protectionist policy and states’ increasingly cautious approach to embracing globalisation.

Unfortunately, the banks and their CEOs — those who brought on the crisis in the first place — ironically are the ones who benefited from the collapse. Big bank bosses generally kept their high-salary jobs; they were responsible for the crash and yet managed to capitalise from it. The less wealthy were disproportionately affected, as the rich, who already owned assets and property before the crash. These people benefited from the central banks’ response of cutting rates and buying bonds, thereby increasing asset values.

This is not just an issue of refreshing the management in the world’s biggest banks, or of tweaking the political structures in Western state legislatures. Rather an entire system change and a reconsolidation of the regulatory system are necessary in order to avoid the likely recurrence of 2008. Current fiscal stimulus policies (responsive to 2008) are unsustainable, and so if we remain on this path, another crash is due in 2020.