Remember the credit crunch? Of course, you do. We’d never seen anything like it, or so the highest financial authorities and their lapdogs in the news media told us – not in a cool, calm, and collected way, either, but in a breathless delivery that suggested imminent economic doom unless the government immediately undertook to “do something.” Which it did, of course, on a scale never before witnessed in U.S. history.
So, looking back, as people are prone to do at this time of year, we can clearly see the telltale signs of the financial disaster that struck the financial markets last autumn: the terrible credit crunch, the “frozen” credit that portended a complete economic “meltdown” unless the government took drastic measures to head it off. (The government’s spokespersons and the media’s talking heads never got straight whether the thing was very cold or very hot, as they reached for horrifying metaphors in all directions at once.)
But, wait, something is terribly wrong in the statistical record! The devastating credit crunch, the greatest threat to this country since the Russians exploded an H-bomb, the most menacing economic event since the stock-market crash of 1929, the . . . (sputter) . . . (sputter) . . . (words fail me in the face of such terrors as it evoked in the minds of government ministers and financial titans of all stripes) . . . . Well, I am rather embarrassed, on behalf of all these giants of the ruling elite, to inform you that in retrospect the Monster from Lack-of-Liquidity Lagoon doesn’t really show up as such in the most relevant statistical series.
Probably the most important measure of credit-market conditions is the amount of commercial-bank credit outstanding. These figures show that although the middle part of 2008 does stand out in the long view, it does so not by virtue of credit’s frightening contraction, but only by virtue of its hitting a six-month plateau from April through September.
Click here or on the graph to enlarge
At no time during that interval, however, did the amount of commercial-bank credit outstanding fall below the amount outstanding at the beginning of the year. In short, credit was actually ample, indeed, at an all-time high; it simply stopped growing as usual for six months, stuck at about $9.4 trillion, while one Wall Street wizard after another told NPR that “no money is moving, the credit market is completely shut down” or some such cock-and-bull story.
Read moreThe Great Credit-Crunch Hoax of 2008