By Martin Wolf
“At particular times a great deal of stupid people have a great deal of stupid money. . . At intervals. . . the money of these people – the blind capital, as we call it, of the country – is particularly large and craving; it seeks for someone to devour it, and there is a ‘plethora’; it finds someone, and there is ‘speculation’; it is devoured, and there is ‘panic’.” Walter Bagehot.*
Panic follows mania as night follows day. The great 19th-century economist and journalist, Walter Bagehot, knew this better than anybody. Lombard Street, his masterpiece, is dedicated to the phenomenon. It is devoted, too, to how central banks should deal with its results.
Ours has been a world of the “no income, no job, no assets” 100 per cent mortgage; of the “do what you like with our money, as long as you pay the fees” covenant-light loan; and of the “in go poor credits and out comes a triple A-rated security” financial alchemist. It has been a world of confidence, cleverness and too much cheap credit.