In 1873, the stock market creeped out and a housing bubble caused almost complete economic meltdown
. Sound familiar? Despite the obvious
similarities in just that first sentence, let's look deeper:
Before the panic, railroad and real estate speculation had been rampant — and values had multiplied to unheard of heights. Credit was easy, and new financial instruments were created, including new types of railroad bonds whose values no one could be sure of.
As I have discussed before (and many people who are much smarter than me have done a better job than I) the lack of a market - a clearinghouse - for derivatives blanketed Wall Street with a cloud of uncertainty. Back-room dealings over the last ten plus years have, on the shoulders of the industrial worker who is treated as insignificantly as the ever-devalued dollar, sealed all of our fates.
Back in 1873, for anyone who has kept up with our current crisis, familiarity ensued:
With the credit markets frozen, at one point the overnight lending rate shot to a quarter of a percentage point, Professor Nelson said, which annualized is about 148 percent. The top national banks of New York formed a Clearing House Committee, pooling their cash and collateral into a common fund and issuing loan certificates against it that would operate like cash. This became the basis for the reconstruction of the credit markets.
So what did the government do? What was the response? Again, this might sound like something you've heard before:
The financial crisis led Congress to pass a bill in 1874 that would allow for more printing of currency to spur inflation and reduce the real value of debts. In a surprise move that was viewed by many as the most important event of his administration to that point, President Grant vetoed the bill.
Instead, something we won't see anytime soon:
In early 1875, Congress passed a bill, known as the Specie Resumption Act, which would back United States currency with gold. By pegging the dollar against hard currency, the act helped curb inflation, tame speculation and produce a stable dollar.
To quote another source
The period after the Civil War was also marked by successive financial panics and crises. Banks at that time were required to hold only a fraction of their deposits in reserve, that is, in the form of specie, vault cash or government securities, and could lend the remaining portion of the deposits to businesses and individuals. These loans were often illiquid, in the sense that although they were fundamentally sound investments in the long run, in the short run they could only be converted into cash for a fraction of their value. Such a system is prone to bank runs, in which a bank's depositors literally race each other to the bank to withdraw their deposits. Following the Panic of 1907, all political parties agreed that a mechanism had to be found to supply banks with short–term liquidity (known as an "elastic currency" at the time).
All of this, eventually in 1913, landed us with a big 'ol Federal Reserve System in our laps.