A decade after the financial crisis began – the worst the world has seen since the Great Depression of 1929 – the global economy has recorded an annual growth rate of 3.5 percent. At the same time, it has increased international trade and job creation in the majority of countries amid a climate of widespread public confidence. But the growth rate is still lower than it was before the summer of 2007, when the subprime mortgage fraud scandal first broke in the United States, giving rise to all the subsequent problems. What’s more, the growth rate is sustained by excessive public and private debt, which poses a constant risk of the country slipping back into crisis. But the world has become used to sitting on this time bomb, at least for the time being.
When the bubble burst on the subprime mortgage market – featuring high-yield, structured products that had taken the world by storm – a financial system was exposed that had taken on too many risks, first in the United States, then in Europe and the rest of the world. The real estate crisis in the United States led to a financial crisis, and to a crisis of confidence which brought international interbank lending to a standstill. As a result, this led to a severe economic crisis – especially pronounced in Spain – which also affected sovereign debt, particularly in the weakest countries of the eurozone, threatening the very existence of the single European currency.
All these crises came together to create a perfect storm, which put the international economic and financial system in jeopardy. Talk of rewriting the rules on the economy and international finance abounded, as well as the need to establish a new order. But instead, the same structures were kept in place, guided by the same ways of thinking, with millions of injections of liquidity from central banks and huge budgetary contributions from the state paying off bank debts, while getting lending back to normal became the primary concern for restoring economic flow. All this came at the cost of a brutal tightening of policy, leading to a huge rise in unemployment and inequality with Spain, again, sadly leading the way. It still owes more than 40 billion euros (approximately $47 billion), earmarked for the recovery of its financial system, which brought an end to the country’s network of savings banks.
At fault for the crisis, the banking sector has undergone an intensive restructuring program, but it has become stronger and more powerful in the process with fewer, though far bigger, institutions – to the point where it has become a constant, systemic risk, very difficult for the international financial authorities to control.
Today, a decade after the financial crisis began, the big central banks are still propping up the economy with their millions of injections of money into the financial system. The current big challenge is the return to normality, which the United States has already begun – though it will still take some time – while a return to normality is not yet on the horizon for the European Union and China.
The problem, for which a solution has yet to be found, is that the economy, with the huge sums of financial resources it receives virtually for free, should be growing and creating jobs far more quickly and successfully than it is. It also ought to be moving toward a greater redistribution of wealth to combat growing inequality, an ambition to which the world – including Spain – is also falling short.