In the autumn of 2008, Lehman Brothers was an American entity active in the derivatives market with a heavy presence in sub-prime mortgages, a low level of capital and a high dependency on the financial market in the short term.
Given the profile of LB, it isn't at all strange that, once cut off from the banks on Wall Street, namely as a result of the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac government bailouts, they were forced to call on the Federal Reserve to intervene, just as Merrill Lynch did at the same time.
As a result, it was decided that Bank of America would stay with Merrill Lynch and LB would go bankrupt. This decision was one of the greatest political errors the North American government has ever made, creating a domino effect starting with AIG, the country's largest insurance company, and Washington Mutual, the largest savings bank, forcing the government and Federal Reserve to intervene in order to avoid a crash of the entire American financial system.
The effect on Europe was immediate, with deflation and the collapse of international credit quickly digging us into the deepest and longest-lasting financial crisis we've ever seen, one that affected global business and the real economy of countries, creating what is known today as the Great Recession.
The country's decision that LB go into bankruptcy was made, apparently, with private and political interests ahead of all others. That decision, an error of enormous consequences, is about to be repeated by the U.S. with what the media call the "fiscal cliff," in which one wrong decision by the Republicans in Congress and the White House could have disastrous economic and social consequences in the U.S. and around the world.
Among the many warnings surrounding this, the president of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, has said that the threat alone of a freeze in payments by the U.S. could already be affecting emerging markets and other vulnerable sectors.
Yong Kim referred to August of 2011, when the Republican Party's refusal to authorize a higher debt ceiling put the global economy in check for more than two months and had a significant effect on developing economies. "Falling markets hurt not only large corporations, but also small business owners and farmers around the world," he said.*
The fiscal problems in the U.S. have the whole world watching and expecting the Americans to do the responsible thing and raise the debt ceiling. Any erratic decision could, as in the case of Lehman Brothers, send another violent ripple effect through the global economy, with unpredictable repercussions.
* Editor´s Note: This is not a direct quote from Yong Kim, but rather a Reuters article summarizing his statement.