The 2008 financial crisis was a major event, equivalent in its initial scope—if not its duration—to the Great Depression of the 1930s. At the time, many commentators said that we were witnessing a crisis of capitalism, proof that the free market system was inherently unstable. Government officials who participated in efforts to mitigate its effects claim that their actions prevented a complete meltdown of the world’s financial system, an idea that has found acceptance among academic and other observers, particularly the media. These views culminated in the enactment of the Dodd-Frank Act that is founded on the notion that the financial system is inherently unstable and must be controlled by government regulation.
We will never know, of course, what would have happened if these emergency actions had not been taken, but it is possible to gain an understanding of why they were considered necessary—that is, the causes of the crisis.