9 August 2007. 15 September 2008. 2 April 2009. 9 May 2010. 5 August 2011. From sub-prime to downgrade, the five stages of the most serious crisis to hit the global economy since the Great Depression can be found in those dates.
Phase one on 9 August 2007 began with the seizure in the banking system precipitated by BNP Paribas announcing that it was ceasing activity in three hedge funds that specialised in US mortgage debt. This was the moment it became clear that there were tens of trillions of dollars worth of dodgy derivatives swilling round which were worth a lot less than the bankers had previously imagined.
Nobody knew how big the losses were or how great the exposure of individual banks actually was, so trust evaporated overnight and banks stopped doing business with each other.
It took a year for the financial crisis to come to a head but it did so on 15 September 2008 when the US government allowed the investment bank Lehman Brothers to go bankrupt. Up to that point, it had been assumed that governments would always step in to bail out any bank that got into serious trouble: the US had done so by finding a buyer for Bear Stearns while the UK had nationalised Northern Rock.
When Lehman Brothers went down, the notion that all banks were “too big to fail” no longer held true, with the result that every bank was deemed to be risky. Within a month, the threat of a domino effect through the global financial system forced western governments to inject vast sums of capital into their banks to prevent them collapsing. The banks were rescued in the nick of time, but it was too late to prevent the global economy from going into freefall. Credit flows to the private sector were choked off at the same time as consumer and business confidence collapsed. All this came after a period when high oil prices had persuaded central banks that the priority was to keep interest rates high as a bulwark against inflation rather than to cut them in anticipation of the financial crisis spreading to the real economy.
当 雷曼兄弟倒下后，这种在那些银行看来“太大而不能倒”的说法已不复存在，因为在众人看来银行都是面临风险的。没出一个月，由于担心通过全球金融体系引发的 多米诺骨牌效应会威胁到各国经济，迫使西方各国政府为避免其金融体系崩溃而注入了大量的资金。银行业在关键时刻得到了政府的救助，但是要阻止全球经济急剧 下滑的态势为时已晚。信贷资金虽然流向了私营部门，但与此同时，由于消费者和企业信心的彻底崩溃，私营部门一时间连喘息的机会都没有。所有的这一切，都源 于高油价使各国央行的首要任务是保持高利率以抗击通胀，而不是即使预期到了金融危机会蔓延到实体经济而削减利率。
The winter of 2008-09 saw co-ordinated action by the newly formed G20 group of developed and developing nations in an attempt to prevent recession turning into a slump. Interest rates were cut to the bone, fiscal stimulus packages of varying sizes announced, and electronic money created through quantitative easing. At the London G20 summit on 2 April 2009, world leaders committed themselves to a $5tn (£3tn) fiscal expansion, an extra $1.1tn of resources to help the International Monetary Fund and other global institutions boost jobs and growth, and to reform of the banks. From this point, when the global economy was on the turn, international co-operation started to disintegrate as individual countries pursued their own agendas.
9 May 2010 marked the point at which the focus of concern switched from the private sector to the public sector. By the time the IMF and the European Union announced they would provide financial help to Greece, the issue was no longer the solvency of banks but the solvency of governments. Budget deficits had ballooned during the recession, mainly as a result of lower tax receipts and higher non-discretionary welfare spending, but also because of the fiscal packages announced in the winter of 2008-09. Greece had unique problems as it covered up the dire state of its public finances and had difficulties in collecting taxes, but other countries started to become nervous about the size of their budget deficits. Austerity became the new watchword, affecting policy decisions in the UK, the eurozone and, most recently in the US, the country that stuck with expansionary fiscal policy the longest.
2009年5月9日 标志着各国关注的焦点开始从私营部门转向公共部门。因为国际货币基金组织和欧盟宣布，他们将会对希腊提供金融援助，从那时候起，问题的关键不再是银行的偿 付能力而是政府的偿债能力了。在经济衰退时期预算赤字开始急剧膨胀，主要是因为政府降低税收，以及必要的福利支出的攀高，但同时也可能是08-09年 冬季公布的财政刺激计划造成的。希腊问题的特别之处在于其掩盖了令人生畏的公共财政的状况，并且收税也是一个问题，但是其他国家开始担忧其规模庞大的预算 赤字。于是，经济紧缩开始成为新的口号，这就影响了英国，欧元区和包括近来问题重重的美国等国家和地区的经济政策。美国一直是实行扩张性财政政策时间最长 的国家。
Last Friday, the morphing of a private debt crisis into a sovereign debt crisis was complete when the rating agency, S&P, waited for Wall Street to shut up shop for the weekend before announcing that America’s debt would no longer be classed as top-notch triple A. This could hardly have come at a worse time, and not just because last week saw the biggest sell-off in stock markets since late 2008. Policymakers are confronted with a slowing global economy and a systemic crisis in one of its component parts, Europe. To the extent that they are united, they are united in stupidity, wedded to blanket austerity that will make matters worse not better. And they have yet to tackle the issue that lay behind the 2007 crisis in the first place, the imbalances between the big creditor nations such as China and Germany, and big debtors like the US.
上周5，由于评级机构标准普尔等待着华尔街在周末关门歇业并随后宣布美国的主权债务不再是最高级别的3A级了，至此，私人债务危机完成了向主权债务危机的转变。没有比这更糟糕的时候了，这不仅仅是因为上周见证了自2008年 以来股票市场最大规模的抛售。决策者们目前面临着持续放缓的全球经济形势，而且还可能面对全球经济的重要一环欧盟的金融系统危机的爆发。尽管从某种程度上 来说欧盟是团结在一起的，但是他们确实愚蠢的团结在一起，实行大范围的紧缩开支的计划，这样做只会让局面变得更加糟糕，而不是更好。
In the circumstances, it is hard to be wildly optimistic about how events will play out. Markets are bound to remain highly jittery, although it seems unlikely that American bond yields will rocket as a result of the S&P downgrade. Japan lost its triple A rating long ago and has national debt well in excess of 200% of GDP but its bond yields remain extremely low. The reason for that is simple: Japan’s growth prospects are poor.
So are America’s, which is why bond yields will remain low in what is still, for the time being, the world’s biggest economy. The dressing down given to Washington by Beijing following the S&P announcement was, however, telling. Growth rates of close to 10% mean that the moment China overtakes the US is getting closer all the time, and the communists in the east now feel bold enough to tell the capitalists in the west how to run their economies. Whatever it means for financial markets this week, 5 August 2011 will be remembered as the day when US hegemony was lost.
All this is terrible news for Barack Obama. He has not delivered economic recovery. The US is drowning in negative equity and foreclosed homes. No president since Roosevelt has won an election with unemployment as high as it is today. Fiscal policy will be tightened over the coming months as tax breaks expire and public spending is cut. The Federal Reserve only has the blunt instrument of QE with which to stimulate the economy, and will only be able to deploy it after a softening up process for the markets that will take several months. On top of that, Obama will now be branded as the president who presided over the national humiliation of a debt downgrade. He looks more like Jimmy Carter than FDR.
对 总统奥巴马来说，这一切可都是坏消息。他未能领导美国走向经济复苏。美国正深陷股市低迷和私人房子被收回的泥潭。从罗斯福以来的历任美国总统中，没有一位 因为失业率水平达到现在如此之高的程度而赢得了选举的。由于减免税收的政策期限将至，以及公共支出的大幅度削减，美国在接下来的几个月都将实行紧缩的财政 政策。美联储目前也只剩量化宽松政策这一个政策工具来刺激美国经济了，而且这一政策工具也只能在接下来的几个月市场恐慌情绪逐渐缓和之后才能将其付诸实 施。更重要的是，奥巴马则会被冠以他在总统任期内美国因为主权债务降级而蒙受了国耻的罪名。他现在的处境与卡特（美国第39届总统）而不是罗斯福（美国第三十二任总统）任职时的情况更相似。
Not that the Europeans should get too smug about this, because what we are witnessing is not just the decline of the US but the decline of the west. One response to last week’s meltdown was the announcement of talks between the G7 – the US, the UK, Germany, Italy, France, Canada and Japan – but while this would have been appropriate 20 years ago it is not going to calm markets today. Holding a G7 meeting without China today is like expecting the League of Nations without the US to tackle totalitarianism in the 1930s.
There is no happy ending to this story. At best there will be a long period of weak growth and high unemployment as individuals and banks pay down the excessive levels of debt accumulated in the bubble years. At worst, the global economy will be plunged back into recession next year as the US goes backwards and the euro comes apart at the seams. The second, gloomier scenario, looks a lot more likely now than it did a week ago.
这 件事不会有一个美好的结局。由于消费者个人和银行需要偿还在经济泡沫丛生的年代里累积下来的巨额债务，最好的情况也就是经济陷入长期的低增长，失业率居高 不下。如果最差的情况出现，那么全球经济将会因为美国经济的倒退和欧元由于分歧不断而面临解体，在明年再度陷入衰退。这第二种更加暗淡的前景在现在看来好 像比一周前更有可能发生。
Why? Because there is no international co-operation. There are plans for austerity but no plans for growth. Even countries that could borrow money for fiscal stimulus packages reluctant to do so. Europe lacks the political will to force the pace of integration necessary to avoid disintegration of the single currency.
Commodity prices are coming down, but that is the only good news. We are less than halfway through the crisis that began on 9 August 2007. That crisis has just entered a dangerous new phase.