Last March, I posted on whether we were at the beginning of the Greatest Depression. Back then, my reasoning was that there was $6.1 trillion in financial toxic waste -- in the form of Collateralized Debt Obligations (CDOs) -- in our financial system resting on a sliver, a mere $340 billion, in capital.
Therefore, a 6% decline in the value of that toxic waste would wipe out the bank capital. (I should have added in another $6 trillion in mortgage-backed securities). When you consider that Merrill Lynch sold $31.6 billion of its CDOs last year for 22 cents on the dollar, you realize that toxic waste needed an 80% haircut rather than a 3% one -- and voila -- you've wiped out all the capital!
If you look at some basic statistics comparing the current economic situation with that of the Great Depression, you might think that we are in relatively great shape. Our unemployment rate now is 7.2% -- at its nadir, 25% of the population was unemployed in the Great Depression.