Three Men And a Bailout

How fears of another Depression forced an unlikely trio to take charge of U.S. capitalism — and why the country will never be the same

David Burnett / Contact for TIME (2); Mike McGregor for TIME

From Left: Ben Bernanke, Tim Geithner, Hank Paulson

The largest government bailout in U.S. history was born before dawn on Sept. 17, when Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke woke up at 6 a.m., checked his BlackBerry and saw the very thing he had dreaded: the futures market in free fall. Bernanke, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and New York Fed president Timothy Geithner had spent the past year staving off one disaster after another, for the most part working behind the scenes. Earlier in the month, they had let investment bank Lehman Brothers slide into oblivion and then ushered another, Merrill Lynch, into the arms of Bank of America. Just...

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