Some of us--especially those under 60--have always wondered what it would be like to live through the kind of epochal event one reads about in books. Well, this is it. We're now living history, suffering one of the greatest financial panics of all time. It compares with the big ones-1907, 1929-and we cannot yet know its full consequences for the financial system, the economy or society as a whole.
I'm betting that, in the end, the world's governments will win this battle against fear. They have potentially unlimited tools at their disposal, especially if they act in concert. They can nationalize firms, call bank holidays, suspend trading for weeks, buy up debt and equity, and renegotiate home mortgages. Most important, the American government can print money. All of these tools have long-term effects that are extremely troublesome, but they are nothing compared with the potential collapse of the financial system. And Washington seems to have recognized that it must do whatever is required to shore up that system. Big questions remain. What will it take to stop the fall? How costly will it be? How long before the rescue plan starts to have an effect? But at some point, the panic that gripped world markets last week will end. Of course, that will not mean a return to growth or a bull market. We're in for tough times. But it will mean a return to sanity.