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Crisis cost up to $14 trillion, Dallas Fed says

Tuesday, 10 Sep 2013 | 11:06 AM ET
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The financial crisis cost the U.S. economy $6 trillion to $14 trillion—and possibly twice that—along with untold costs from "special treatment" that too-big-to-fail banks received, according to an explosive new analysis from the Dallas Federal Reserve.

Nearing the five-year anniversary of the Lehman Brothers' bankruptcy that shocked the global economy, the central bank analysis takes a stark look at the costs left behind by the crisis and the ensuing bailout.

Among the lasting damages, the paper cites continuing and pervasive unemployment as well as the opportunity costs that came from $12.6 trillion in direct aid given to the financial sector.

"The 2007–09 meltdown produced a huge downshift in the path of economic output, consumption and financial wealth," the paper said. "The nation has borne additional costs arising from psychological consequences, skill atrophy from extended unemployment, a reduced set of economic opportunities and increased government intervention in the economy."

Lessons from the financial crisis of 2008
Jessica Bibliowicz, former Chairman & CEO of National Financial Partners, shares her reflections on the huge blow to the U.S. banking system five years ago and how she led her business back from the brink.

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All totaled, the damage comes to $6 trillion to $14 trillion, a staggering number that nearly equates to an entire year of gross domestic product.

Broken down, that translates to $50,000 to $120,000 for every U.S. household "or the equivalent of 40 to 90 percent of one year's economic output," the paper said.

And it could be worse—a lot worse—depending on how long it takes for a full recovery to set in.

"If the effects of the crisis are permanent, the path of consumption observed since 2007 suggests that the cost of the crisis may be more than double the $6 trillion to $14 trillion estimate," the paper said.

(Read more: A financial crisis timeline)

The Dallas Fed used output-per-person totals as of mid-2013 to calculate the costs. It figured that number stood at 12 percent lower than typical recoveries over the past 50 years.

Some of the numbers the central bank branch cites are startling: a loss of 8.7 million nonfarm payroll jobs; a peak of 14.7 million unemployed, labor underutilization that remains "intractably high" and 10.6 million underemployed.

(Read more: Jobs growth misses high hopes; rate drops to 7.3%)

"A stark legacy of the recession and the lackluster labor market is reduced opportunity and deterioration captured in subjective measures of well-being," the paper said. "Since the recession's onset in December 2007, more citizens believed their income would be lower in the future than thought it would be higher. This is the first time in any recession since the 1960s that income expectations turned negative."

The U.S. fell from second to 18th on the Frasier Institute's Index of Economic Freedom ranking in 2012, a remnant, the Fed said, of the bailouts used to prop up Wall Street institutions at the center of the financial crisis.

The paper said:

Deemed "too big to fail," these financial intermediaries lacked discipline and accountability leading up to the crisis and proved largely immune to the downside of their excessive risk taking. This special treatment violated a basic tenet of American capitalism: All people and institutions have the freedom to succeed and also to fail based on the merits of their actions. In a way, the 2008–09 bailouts exacted an unfair and nontransparent tax upon the American people.

The Fed added:

Although unprecedented fiscal and monetary action in the throes of panic during 2008–09 may have prevented a full-blown depression, such intervention did not come without significant costs. Society must deal with the consequences of a swollen federal debt, an expanded Federal Reserve balance sheet and increased regulations and government intervention for years to come.

The damage from the crisis remains hard to calculate, the paper said, given the possibility that the U.S. economy may never reach its old productivity level.

The paper concluded:

Given this range of estimates, the tepid economic recovery and the collateral damage sustained, it is crucial to implement effective policies that avoid future episodes whose magnitude could exceed even the staggering costs and consequences of the most recent financial crisis.

(Read the full Dallas Fed report here.)

By CNBC's Jeff Cox. Follow him @JeffCoxCNBCcom on Twitter.

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