Friday, March 13, 2009

The Financial Crisis for Dummies

This is, perhaps, the most engaging and accessible explanation of the current "Great Recession" I have come across. In this 59-minute podcast, Ira Glass and his cohorts at Chicago Public Radio and NPR create an ultra-simplified world of just one eager dollhouse buyer, a would-be banker with $10 in his pocket, and a young man with $90 he wants to put into a savings account to explain the financial mess we find ourselves in. This recording explains why TARP is called TARP, what insolvency is all about, what the term toxic assets means, and why America's biggest banks are afraid to "mark it to market" or re-value those toxic assets.

After listening I have a better appreciation for the state of all things financial but I am left wondering, what's the best way out of this morass?

Discussion Questions

1. Can you point to an underlying cause that precipitated this crisis?

2. Does the government nationalize the banks for a time, robbing banks' shareholders of their investments but allowing banks to start over with a clean slate? Does it help the banks get back on their feet by purchasing toxic assets with taxpayer money at artificially high prices? What are the short and long term effects of these different strategies?

3. Do you think the United States has "learned its lesson"? Will people (and businesses and governments) change their behavior? Or are we doomed to repeat this process?

4. Are there safeguards the government can introduce that will keep this from happening in the future?



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