Reasons to be Cheerful: it's not September 2008!

by SixFigureStart | September 14, 2009

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It's difficult to miss all the anniversary coverage of the fall of Lehman Brothers in the media this week, which makes it very easy to look back and wonder what might have been if the bank had only been bailed out? Would the crisis have been averted, and millions of livelihoods saved? Not according to noted doom-saying economist (and forecaster of the current recession) Nouriel Roubini on CNBC, at least. According to him, by the time Lehman fell, "(w)e already were in the middle of a very severe crisis. Saying that bail[ing] out Lehman, everything would have been OK, is nonsense…Lehman was a symptom of the crisis, not the cause of the crisis."

True as that may be, there's little doubt that the fall of the bank sparked the financial panic that ensued over the closing months of 2008. As the following chart demonstrates, the unemployment rate shot up drastically at the same time, rising from around 6 percent before Lehman's failure to over 7 percent by the end of the year, and almost 10 percent a year later. So whatever role Lehman played in it, the fact remains that the crisis affected millions of Americans who were otherwise completely unrelated to it.

The good news is that the crisis seems to be waning, which means that, as a trailing indicator, unemployment figures should start doing the same in the near to medium term future—although perhaps not in the financial industry. According to an excellent piece in the New York Times, "thousands of financial industry jobs have vanished and several of the country’s best-known banks and brokerage firms have disappeared. Since a peak in 2007, the market valuation of the country’s 29 biggest financial services firms has been cleaved by about half." Even those at the heart of the industry that caused the unprecedented meltdown we've seen, however, have reasons to be cheerful: "significant parts of Wall Street endure," says the Times, "and some firms are raking in handsome profits. Indeed, many bankers and traders are looking forward to big bonuses once again." And there's nothing to gladden the heart like bankers and traders pocketing fat bonuses, right?

While it's easy to lose yourself in the sort of cynicism displayed in the final sentence of the previous paragraph, and just as tempting to look back on the events of the year past and indulge in some wallowing—especially if you're without employment at the moment—it's important to remember that this isn't September 2008. Sure, your 401(k) isn't even close to recovering, and it's a bold new world out there, but that doesn’t mean you can't prosper in it.

(Still, if you do need a little anniversary-style closure before you move on to better things, you could do worse than check out the following "Where are they Now?" feature from Business Week, which tracks the fate of several of the key players from last year. I mean, whose heart doesn't get a little warmer when reading vignettes like this: "Estimated to have lost $1 billion in personal wealth [former Lehman Brothers CEO Dick Fuld], 63, has become the poster child for corporate irresponsibility and the firm's collapse.")

Now, stop and take stock of that for a minute, consider how much better you've got it, and get on with the task of finding a job.

--Posted by Phil Stott, Vault Staff Writer

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