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The Next Financial Unraveling

Question: How will the next financial crisis occur? 

Simon Johnson: Secretary [Tim] Geithner says this crisis, this kind, only occur every 40 years. Hank Paulson, former Secretary of Treasury says they're every four to six years. Jamie Dimon, the head of JP Morgan Chase, says every five to seven years. So, this is a key issue. Our view is that the structure of the financial system has changed over the past 30 years so that these kind of crises now become more likely and we think that the most obvious source of danger now is in emerging markets. 

People are convinced that China, for example, can only go up. Any investment there will make easy money they tell you. There is a lot of savings coming from middle-income countries that come into US and European banks and then come out again to those emerging markets, much like they did in the 1970’s. A sort of a movement of capital around the world through our banks. It’s all based on debt and it will be based, if people buy into this idea of the new boom in emerging markets, it will be based on unsustainable build up of debt in those places, probably around the private sector in their companies. And this will lead us into deep trouble, not just in those countries, but also for our banks that are pushing the debt and selling the debt. So, here we go again. 

Question: How soon will this happen? 

Simon Johnson: That’s hard to say. The timing of the cycle we’ve seen recently which suggests it’s a three to four to five year cycle we’re in. But honestly, if it’s 10 years or 12 years and at the end of it there's a cataclysmic collapse of the kind we just saw in 2008/2009, then that is something we should also be acting to prevent. You cannot do this every 10 years without really horrible consequences for a lot of people in society. 

Recorded on March 31, 2010

Because of structural changes, crises could now become more frequent, and the most obvious source of danger now is in emerging markets.

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