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What would if you had to look in your sort of negative crystal ball, if you hadn't taken those steps, if everybody had been more timid, if there hadn't been cooperation at the end of the year, and the beginning of this year what would the world economy, and the U.S. economy look like in a specific way? I mean, how much unemployment would there be? How much foreclosure? Sketch that kind of dystopia.
Well, it's very hard for us to know precisely, but we know that in the 1930s, the U.S. went from an unemployment rate in 1929 of about 3% to an unemployment rate in 1933 of 25% of the labor force. There was a decline in GDP in the 1930s, close to a third of GDP, maybe four or five times greater than what we've seen in this recession in the U.S. The stock market fell to 10 or 15% of its initial value, about a third of all the banks in the U.S. failed, and many other countries had even worse depressions. Some had worse depressions than the U.S., Germany being an example, which is why we saw the rise of Hitler in 1933.
So, while it's difficult to know exactly what the outcome would have been, certainly, just judging on what happened after the failure of a single firm, the collapse of the global financial system would surely have led to a far deeper recession, higher unemployment, much greater fiscal cost to the taxpayer, and to rebuild the financial system, and to get the economy moving again. And almost certainly, [we would have had] many, many years of subnormal substandard performance by the U.S. economy, and by other industrial economies, as well. Again, we can't know precisely, but I think if anything, the financial crisis last fall was as severe, and as dangerous as anything we've ever seen, including the 1930s.
There is an irony here that's literary, that here's this man who spends his life distinguishing himself studying economic history. And then one day you wake up and realize that you're at the center of economic history in this really unusual chapter. How do you process that personally? I mean, how does that change how you go from being the academic expert to you're in the arena?
Well, I certainly didn't anticipate when I came to Washington in 2002, I certainly didn't anticipate these events, or how things would evolve. No question about it. And when I became chairman in 2006, I thought that I hoped that my main objectives would be improving the management, communication and monitoring policy.
We were certainly attentive to the risks of financial crisis. Secretary Paulson and I talk frequently to people on Wall Street, and we secured the Federal Reserve. We set up a team of staff drawn from different disciplines to try to identify problems and weaknesses in the financial sector. So, we were certainly aware of the risks of financial crisis, but one as large and as dangerous as this one, I certainly did not anticipate. I wish I had, but I didn't.
Then when the crisis came, you know, rather unexpectedly, a different part of my training and research became relevant, which was to work on financial crises generally, and also on the Great Depression. And I believe very much that that experience, and that knowledge, was very helpful to me in many dimensions of this effort, ranging from I think the most important lesson, there are many lessons, but I think the most important lesson was that we were not going to have a healthy stable economy with a completely dysfunctional financial system. We had to take strong measures to prevent that from happening.
And in the 1930s, the Federal Reserve was quite passive, and allowed the banks to fail, and we know the result of that. So, we were determined that that wasn't going to happen on my watch, on our watch, so we were prepared to take very strong actions to avoid that.
You've been quite forthcoming, I think, in your testimony about saying, there's a lot of things you didn't see, there's some things that we didn't do. If I gave you a kind of do-over to go back as long as you want to say you know what, if we'd seen this, if we'd looked at the sub-prime mortgage crisis. I mean, how could you have handled it, and the Fed handled it better to have a different outcome?
Well, we have, based on the experience of the crisis, we the Treasury and others have made proposals for how the financial regulatory system ought to be reformed and restructured. I'll say a word about that. If we had been in that forum, I think we would have avoided the crisis. So, there were some important lessons.
One was that our regulatory system was too myopic. It was too focused on individual firms, or individual markets, and there was nobody paying attention to the broad overall financial system. So, the Federal Reserve was not entrusted with looking at the whole financial system. We were we had very specific assignments. We were supposed to look at specific institutions. Those institutions did not include many of the firms that had severe problems, like Lehman Brothers or Bear Stearns or AIG. Those were outside of our purview, and since they were outside of our purview, we didn't look at them.
But there were many situations where there was really nobody who was looking carefully at what was going on, and nobody who was looking at how the parts of the system fit together. So, a very important recommendation that we have made is that there be a more systemic approach that is, have some arrangement whereby a regulator, or a group of regulators, has responsibility to look at the system as a whole, and try to identify emerging problems, or gaps in the regulatory apparatus, or weaknesses in individual institutions, as they relate to other institutions, that threaten the integrity of the system as a whole.