One of the biggest questions about the financial crisis – one heard from Capitol Hill to radio talk shows to casual conversations with friends – is why it matters for ordinary people. One major reason a significant proportion of public opinion is against the rescue plan is the general failure to make the connection between panics in the financial sector and the ordinary lives of everyday people; simply saying that the plan is necessary to prevent (or moderate) a recession smacks too much of “trust me” to be credible.
The connection is that much of the ordinary activity in the real economy relies on credit – think no further than the volume of purchases made using credit cards. (Although banks have been reducing credit limits, there is little risk for now that credit cards will stop working overnight.) And in today’s conditions, when many financial institutions are potential victims of liquidity runs, lending has virtually ground to a halt. The New York Times has an article today about the impact that the current crisis is having on local governments suddenly unable to raise money for ongoing projects such as highway repairs and hospital expansions. Across the country, local governments issued $13 billion in fixed-rate bonds in the first half of September – and $2 billion in the second half. A sudden 87% drop in a major source of municipal funding is a very real impact of the financial crisis, and one that will necessarily result in both fewer services and fewer jobs for taxpayers.