Interdependency between banks, insurers and countries through financial instruments was a factor blamed for the financial crisis. Now, academics are trying to measure it. Bob Merton, professor of finance at MIT Sloan, explains to John Authers that credit seems even more interconnected now.
Robert C. Merton is the School of Management Distinguished Professor of Finance at the MIT Sloan School of Management.
In 2009 when my colleagues at the National Bureau of Economic Research and I began planning a conference for a project we’re running on the global financial crisis, we were concerned that the material would no longer be timely when the symposium actually occurred. We needn’t have worried.
I’ve just returned from Washington, DC, where our symposium was held, and again financial crises were the topic of the day. Three years after cracks in the subprime mortgage market erupted into the most severe and synchronized global financial crisis and recession since the Great Depression, the world economy is once more in dangerous territory. What began as a singular sovereign debt problem in Greece has spread to the rest of Europe, and now threatens to become a second act to the first financial crisis. How did we get here? And how can we keep it from happening again?
The numbers are staggering: The average family debt in Canada has increased 78 percent over the last two decades, recently hitting $100,000 per family. In the third quarter of 2010, Canadians’ debt-to-disposable income ratio surpassed the US for the first time since the late 1990s. In my home country – I grew up just outside of Ottawa, Ontario – this is getting a lot of publicity (comparing ourselves to our American cousins is always a popular pastime).