At this point severe damage is done and one cannot rule out a systemic collapse and a global depression. It will take a significant change in leadership of economic policy and very radical, coordinated policy actions among all advanced and emerging market economies to avoid this economic and financial disaster. Urgent and immediate necessary actions that need to be done globally (with some variants across countries depending on the severity of the problem and the overall resources available to the sovereigns) include:
- another rapid round of policy rate cuts of the order of at least 150 basis points on average globally;
- a temporary blanket guarantee of all deposits while a triage between insolvent financial institutions that need to be shut down and distressed but solvent institutions that need to be partially nationalized with injections of public capital is made;
- a rapid reduction of the debt burden of insolvent households preceded by a temporary freeze on all foreclosures;
- massive and unlimited provision of liquidity to solvent financial institutions;
- public provision of credit to the solvent parts of the corporate sector to avoid a short-term debt refinancing crisis for solvent but illiquid corporations and small businesses;
- a massive direct government fiscal stimulus packages that includes public works, infrastructure spending, unemployment benefits, tax rebates to lower income households and provision of grants to strapped and crunched state and local government;
- a rapid resolution of the banking problems via triage, public recapitalization of financial institutions and reduction of the debt burden of distressed households and borrowers;
- an agreement between lender and creditor countries running current account surpluses and borrowing and debtor countries running current account deficits to maintain an orderly financing of deficits and a recycling of the surpluses of creditors to avoid a disorderly adjustment of such imbalances.
At this point anything short of these radical and coordinated actions may lead to a market crash, a global systemic financial meltdown and to a global depression. At this stage central banks that are usually supposed to be the "lenders of last resort" need to become the "lenders of first and only resort" as, under conditions of panic and total loss of confidence, no one in the private sector is lending to anyone else since counterparty risk is extreme. And fiscal authorities that usually are spenders and insurers of last resort need to temporarily become the spenders and insurers of first resort. The fiscal costs of these actions will be large but the economic and fiscal costs of inaction would be of a much larger and severe magnitude. Thus, the time to act is now as all the policy officials of the world are meeting this weekend in Washington at the IMF and World Bank annual meetings.