Bad leveraged investments in subprime loans led to the current mortgage crisis.
How’s Wall Street reacting? By going conservative. Companies are holding cash. Those with high-risk real estate investment portfolios are in trouble.
A recession could cause credit card loans and other forms of debt, some of which were also based on overexuberance, to start going bad as well.
Many economists, on the right and the left, now argue that the only solution is for the federal government to step in and buy some of the unwanted debt, as the Fed began doing last weekend. This is called a bailout, and there is no doubt that giving a handout to Wall Street lenders or foolish home buyers — as opposed to, say, laid-off factory workers — is deeply distasteful. At this point, though, the alternative may be worse.
Bubbles lead to busts. Busts lead to panics. And panics can lead to long, deep economic downturns, which is why the Fed has been taking unprecedented actions to restore confidence.
“You say, my goodness, how could subprime mortgage loans take out the whole global financial system?” Mr. Zandi said. “That’s how.”