Really, Forbes?

I don’t think it’s quite time to start calling this economic crisis a depression, as if it’s just a fact. Not yet.

Talk about what it would take to become a depression or even how likely it is that we could already be in or entering one.

But this headline is too ahead of the game:

Be Indispensable: Skills To Beat The Depression

It’s going to be a very different world out there. Here are some hints for preparing for it.

I’m as downbeat as the next guy on the economy, but we’re not quite to the “D” word yet.

Even Nouriel Roubini’s column in your magazine only gives a 30 percent chance to a “near-depression.” And he’s about as bearish as they come. His column is called “Doctor Doom” after all.

But cheers to Forbes for Roubini’s column. The headline prompts yet another “Whodathunkit?” moment from a major financial publication:

Laissez-Faire Capitalism Has Failed

The financial crisis lays bare the weakness of the Anglo-Saxon model.

Roubini raises the frightening point that some Western economies may not be big enough for their governments to bail out their banking sectors:

But now such sovereign risk, as measured by the sovereign spread, is also rising in many European economies whose banks may be larger than the ability of the sovereign to rescue them: Iceland, Greece, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Switzerland and, some suggest, even the U.K…

At some point a sovereign bank may crack, in which case the ability of governments to credibly commit to act as a backstop for the financial system, including deposit guarantees, could come unglued.

Thus the L-shaped, near-depression scenario is still quite possible (I assign it a 30% probability), unless appropriate and aggressive policy action is undertaken by the U.S. and other economies.

If such a thing happens I say forget I ever wrote this post’s top: Head for the hills!

Roubini makes it clear he’s not arguing against capitalism itself, just the unfettered, fundamentalist kind:

There is the failure of ideas—such as the “efficient market hypothesis,” which deluded its believers about the absence of market failures such as asset bubbles; the “rational expectations” paradigm that clashes with the insights of behavioral economics and finance; and the “self-regulation of markets and institutions” that clashes with the classical agency problems in corporate governance—that are themselves exacerbated in financial companies by the greater degree of asymmetric information. For example, how can a chief executive or a board monitor the risk taking of thousands of separate profit and loss accounts? Then there are the distortions of compensation paid to bankers and traders.

This crisis also shows the failure of ideas such as the one that securitization will reduce systemic risk rather than actually increase it. That risk can be properly priced when the opacity and lack of transparency of financial firms and new instruments leads to unpriceable uncertainty rather than priceable risk.

It is clear that the Anglo-Saxon model of supervision and regulation of the financial system has failed. It relied on several factors: self-regulation that, in effect, meant no regulation; market discipline that does not exist when there is euphoria and irrational exuberance; and internal risk-management models that fail because, as a former chief executive of Citigroup put it, when the music is playing, you’ve got to stand up and dance.

Furthermore, the self-regulation approach created rating agencies that had massive conflicts of interest and a supervisory system dependent on principles rather than rules. In effect, this light-touch regulation became regulation of the softest touch.

I’ve got no arguments with this column.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.