Advancing a Free Society

Lehman

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

I hope I find the time to comment more fully on this recent column in the WaPo by Robert Samuelson defending the Fed. But for now, let me pull out one paragraph:

After Lehman Brothers’ failure in September 2008, American credit markets began shutting down. Banks wouldn’t lend to banks. Investors balked at buying commercial paper — a type of short-term loan — and many “securitized” bonds. Fearing they’d lose credit, businesses dramatically cut spending. Layoffs exploded: 6.3 million jobs vanished between that September and June 2009. Firms canceled investment projects in plants and equipment. In the first quarter of 2009, business investment spending fell at a 31 percent annual rate.

This is a common view–that Lehman’s collapse and the failure of the policymakers to rescue Lehman precipitated the crisis. It could be true but the evidence is quite cloudy. The claim also ignores the possibility that it once the Fed had rescued the creditors of Bear Stearns in March of 2008, lenders to Lehman (such as Reserve Primary–a money market fund!) figured they were safe. It was the unexpectedness of the government actually letting creditors lose money that caused the dislocations, not the failure of Lehman, per se.

Continue reading Russ Roberts…