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Banking and financial crises in United States history: what guidance can history offer policymakers?

  • Ellis W. Tallman
  • Elmus R. Wicker

This paper assesses the validity of comparisons between the current financial crisis and past crises in the United States. We highlight aspects of two National Banking Era crises (the Panic of 1873 and the Panic of 1907) that are relevant for comparison with the Panic of 2008. In 1873, overinvestment in railroad debt and the default of railroad companies on that debt led to the failure of numerous brokerage houses, precursor to the modern investment bank. During the Panic of 1907, panic-related deposit withdrawals centered on the less regulated trust companies, which had only indirect access to the existing lender of last resort, similar to investment banks in 2008. The popular press has made numerous references to the banking crises of the Great Depression as relevant comparisons to the recent crisis. This paper argues that such an analogy is inaccurate. The previous banking crises in U.S. history reflected widespread depositor withdrawals whereas the recent panic arose from counterparty solvency fears and large counterparty exposures among large complex financial intermediaries. In historical incidents, monitoring counterparty exposures was standard banking practice and the exposures were smaller. From this perspective, the lessons from the past appear less directly relevant for the current crisis.

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Paper provided by Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland in its series Working Paper with number 1009.

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Date of creation: 2010
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Handle: RePEc:fip:fedcwp:1009
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  1. Ellis W. Tallman & Jon R. Moen, 1990. "Lessons from the panic of 1907," Economic Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, issue May, pages 2-13.
  2. Moen, Jon & Tallman, Ellis W., 1992. "The Bank Panic of 1907: The Role of Trust Companies," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 52(03), pages 611-630, September.
  3. Moritz Schularick & Alan M. Taylor, 2009. "Credit Booms Gone Bust: Monetary Policy, Leverage Cycles and Financial Crises, 1870-2008," NBER Working Papers 15512, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Richardson, Gary, 2007. "Categories and causes of bank distress during the great depression, 1929-1933: The illiquidity versus insolvency debate revisited," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 44(4), pages 588-607, October.
  5. Romer, Christina, 1986. "Spurious Volatility in Historical Unemployment Data," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 94(1), pages 1-37, February.
  6. Charles W. Calomiris & Gary Gorton, . "The Origins of Banking Panics: Models, Facts, and Bank Regulation," Rodney L. White Center for Financial Research Working Papers 11-90, Wharton School Rodney L. White Center for Financial Research.
  7. Ellis W. Tallman & Jon R. Moen, 2007. "Liquidity creation without a lender of last resort: clearinghouse loan certificates in the Banking Panic of 1907," Working Paper 2006-23, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.
  8. Gerald P. Dwyer, Jr. & R. Alton Gilbert, 1989. "Bank runs and private remedies," Review, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, issue May, pages 43-61.
  9. Bliss, Robert R. & Kaufman, George G., 2006. "Derivatives and systemic risk: Netting, collateral, and closeout," Journal of Financial Stability, Elsevier, vol. 2(1), pages 55-70, April.
  10. Tallman, Ellis W. & Moen, Jon R., 2012. "Liquidity creation without a central bank: Clearing house loan certificates in the banking panic of 1907," Journal of Financial Stability, Elsevier, vol. 8(4), pages 277-291.
  11. Flannery, Mark J., 2009. "Financial system instability: Threats, prevention, management, and resolution," Journal of Financial Stability, Elsevier, vol. 5(3), pages 221-223, September.
  12. Nathan Balke & Robert J. Gordon, 1986. "Appendix B: Historical Data," NBER Chapters, in: The American Business Cycle: Continuity and Change, pages 781-850 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  13. repec:cup:cbooks:9780521562614 is not listed on IDEAS
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