Lehman Revisted

An old draft I forgot to publish a while back:

My students and I have been reading Gary Gorton’s Misunderstanding Financial Crises in the last couple weeks of my Money and Banking class.  Some students raised questions as to whether Lehman should have been saved or even could have been saved?   In hindsight, I get the impression that most economists would agree that Lehman should have been bailed out, been provided more assistance in finding a buyer, etc if those measures were possible.  However, there is probably more debate on whether or not  the measures were possible at all. The “could” and “should” questions lead to more questions. First, concerning “could”, the question center around what was at the heart of Lehman’s problems in Sept of 2008?  Assets write downs and negative equity or a liquidity crunch? Second, concerning “should” were there signs of a systemic run, and what were the policy measures that were being promoted publicly between the buyout of Bear Stearns and the failure of Lehman Brothers?

During a crisis there is a lot more that you can do given the costs of inaction.  The crisis state of the world is different state of the world with different rules.  In Gorton’s work this is highlighted with debt not being historically enforced during crises.   The problem is then crisis identification, so you correctly know when all options are on the table.   The central question becomes, was there a crisis before the failure of Lehman, and if so, could you see it.  I believe the answer to both of these questions are yes (see figure 4), so that Lehman “should” have been “saved” or received more assistance in finding a buyer.   Whether or not enough information was actually seen by any one person that could have done something  is another story, so I am not attempting to claim individual culpability.



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