It is easy to see how sub-prime mortgages blew up Wall Street; it is a little more challenging to see it as the author of the global recession. Why were there economies that had no sub-prime mortgages that experienced even deeper recessions than the United States? Why did those economies go into recession even before the US economy went into recession? Maybe, just maybe, there was something more important going on–more important to the global economy than Wall Street or sub-prime mortgages, like $147 barrel oil, for example. If we know anything about watching the global economy in the last 40 years, we know this: feed it cheap oil, and it runs very smoothly. All of the sudden, give it expensive oil, and it stops in its tracks.
Every major recession in the post-war period has oil’s fingerprints all over it. The 1973 first oil shock led to what was then the deepest post-war recession, at the time. The second OPEC oil shock led to no less than two recessions: 1979 and 1982. And then when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, and left half of its oil fields on fire, and oil spiked to the then unheard-of price of $40 barrel, lo and behold, the industrialized world again fell into recession.
Gee, I wonder what happened to oil prices before this recession. It seems to me that oil prices went from about $30 barrel, at the beginning of 2004, to almost $150 barrel by 2008. Even in real terms, that is, inflation-adjusted, that price increase was over double the price increase of either the first or the second OPEC oil shock. If they had led to devastating recessions, why would not the biggest oil shock of them all, be the obvious culprit for what has been the deepest recession to date?
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