Monday, Nov. 03, 2008

When We Realized the Sky Was Falling

Dark clouds had been gathering over the economy for most of the year, but by Saturday, Sept. 13, a storm seemed to break. Suddenly, we learned that Lehman Brothers, one of the pillars of American investment banking, was on the verge of bankruptcy. Its survival depended on a buyout by Bank of America, but BA bought Merrill Lynch instead, and Lehman went phfft. Simultaneously, insurance giant AIG announced that it was in so much trouble (over underwriting the bad decisions of big banks), it needed to be bailed out. And suddenly years of stupidly easy mortgages came back and broke the banks that issued them. The dole queue was forming, and first in line for the bailout were those who we assumed knew all about making money. The bad times had begun, and you could feel them in the value of your home, your 401(k), your job, the endowment at your kids' schools, your credit cards — and, of course, in the auto industry, construction, retail and elsewhere in the economy. Saturday, Sept. 13 marked the beginning of a deluge of depressing news to put a damper on the holidays.