September 28, 2008
If more people understood what has happened in the British and American banking system, the financial crisis would only be containable by the immediate partial nationalisation of every bank in Britain and America. There was not a run on the banks by depositors queuing in the streets to withdraw their savings. Rather, it was an escalating and terrifying run on the banks in effect by themselves, which, if it spread to millions of small savers, would reproduce the events of 1929.
In Britain, the money markets that the banks organise between themselves completely froze. Such was the break down in trust and sense of panic that some of the most familiar names in British high street banking would not lend to each other at all or, at best, just overnight. Instead, the Bank of England had to supply tens of billions to banks who found the normal sources of funds blocked.
I have been writing on the financial markets for nearly 30 years. I have known the system was becoming increasingly fragile, but for all the ferocity of my criticisms, I never expected the scale of today’s events. Or that I would begin to wonder whether my own bank would survive without nationalisation. The negotiations in Washington over this weekend to finalise the $700bn Paulson financial bail-out plan, and the expected vote on Sunday, are all that stands between the Anglo-American banking system and a first-order disaster. The scheme had better work.