The farce of the eurozone’s debt crisis is understandably captivating, but is an even bigger situation developing in China? Credit-fuelled gullibility lies at the heart of most bubbles, but such gullibility provides quality fodder for fraudulent schemes too. No one notices on the way up. But Charles Kindleberger showed in his seminal history of financial manias that they start emerging on the way down. In this context, China’s newsflow is worrying indeed.
"The specific signal that precipitates the crisis may be the failure of a bank or firm stretched too tight, the revelation of a swindle or defalcation by someone who sought to escape distress by dishonest means, or a fall in the price of the primary object of speculation as it, at first alone, is seen to be overpriced. In any case, the rush is on. Prices decline. Bankruptcies increase. Liquidation sometimes is orderly but may degenerate into panic as the realization spreads that there is only so much money, not enough to enable everyone to sell out at the top. The word for this state—again, not from Minsky—is revulsion. Revulsion against commodities or securities leads banks to cease lending on the collateral of such assets. In the early nineteenth century this condition was known as discredit. Overtrading, revulsion, discredit—all these terms have a musty, old-fashion flavor. They are imprecise, but they do convey a graphic picture.
Revulsion and discredit may go so far as to lead to panic (or as the Germans put it, Torschlusspanik. “door-shut-panic”), with people crowding to get through the door before it slams shut. The panic feeds on itself, as did the speculation, until one or more of three things happen: (1) prices fall so low that people are again tempted to move back into less liquid assets; (2) trade is cut off by setting limits on price declines, shutting down exchanges, or otherwise closing trading; or (3) a lender of last resort succeeds in convincing the market that money will be made available in sufficient volume to meet the demand for cash. Confidence may be restored even if a large volume of money is not issued against other assets; the mere knowledge that one can get money is frequently sufficient to moderate or eliminate the desire.
Whether there should be a lender of last resort is a matter of some debate. Those who oppose the function argue that it encourages speculation in the first place. Supporters worry more about the current crisis than about forestalling some future one. There is also a question of the place for an international lender of last resort. In domestic crises, government or the central bank (when there is one) has responsibility. At the international level, there is neither a world government nor any world bank adequately equipped to serve as a lender of last resort, although some would contend that the International Monetary Fund since Bretton Woods in 1944 is capable of discharging the role.
Dilemmas, debates, doubts, questions abound."