Refresh Your Short-Term Financial Memory

 | Dec 13, 2011 | 10:00 AM EST
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After another beat-down Monday where market players fretted over more inaction (or insufficient action) from Europe's central bankers and politicians, we should remember how well U.S. policymakers performed when faced with 2008's market disintegration.

I know it's fashionable to criticize Fed chief Ben Bernanke, TARP and anything else that was around when the financial markets collapsed in 2008, but these critics are way off the mark.

The fact that U.S. policymakers were able to take such swift action when trouble really set in (but not enough for some who point out endlessly that the Fed didn't take action sooner) is remarkable.

What's going on in Europe now is the norm rather than the exception: delays, political wrangling, back-room cynicism, doubt, hesitation, denial, complacency, "It's-not-that-bad"-itis. It's all part of the mix.

It's frustrating for the markets, and it's certainly pulling down market indices.

As one tech banker in New York told me last week, all his clients are "terrified" that Europe will implode early in the new year. He says he's worried that people aren't seeing how much worse things could get -- or how badly a problem in Europe could sideswipe a seemingly immune U.S. tech company that has almost all its customers in the U.S.

"Everyone is going to be hit by this," he told me.

Europe has been tone-deaf to the markets for some time now. Remember when former European Central Bank chief Jean-Claude Trichet started a series of rate increases for Europe in the first half of 2008? Market participants were truly shocked.

The same go-slow approach seems to be at play in Europe now.

It makes me think about how lucky we were in the U.S. in 2008. The fact that Bernanke, who was behind the curve up to that point, was so quick to take unprecedented action in the face of a tough crisis was amazing. That he was on the same page as then-Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson was also remarkable. But the most amazing thing was that they were able to get both political parties to support the TARP bailouts and move quickly to backstop the U.S. financial system -- despite all the backbiting and finger-pointing we've seen from U.S. politicians in the past two years.

If the U.S. were to face such a crisis today, I'm confident that we wouldn't take such dramatic moves. We've become a nation of second-guessers and revisionists who think that just because things are better now we didn't need major governmental intervention in 2008.

Thanks to a Freedom of Information Act request by Bloomberg, we know now that the government's intervention in 2008 was off the charts for the financial sector.

Europe needs to get itself together. Unfortunately, they may need the fear of God out in them for that to happen.

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