Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Lost Worlds

As a young academic economist in the 1980s, Mr. Bernanke largely developed the theory that the loan officers’ lost knowledge was a crucial cause of the Depression. He referred to this lost knowledge as “informational capital.” In plain English, it means that trust vanished from the banking sector.

The same thing is happening now. Financial markets are global, not local, today, so the problem isn’t that the failure of any single bank locks individuals or businesses out of the credit markets. Instead, the nasty surprises of the last 13 months — the sort of turmoil that once would have been unthinkable — have caused an effective breakdown in informational capital. Bankers now look at longtime customers and think of that old refrain from a failed marriage: I feel like I don’t even know you.

David Leonhardt in the New York Times

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