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Financial crisis, recession cost U.S. $12.8 trillion, report says

September 12, 2012|By Jim Puzzanghera
  • In this 2008 file photo, President George W. Bush (second from the left, flanked by (from left) Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Christopher Cox, speak about a plan by the federal government to shore up failing financial markets.
In this 2008 file photo, President George W. Bush (second from the left,… (Win McNamee / Getty Images )

WASHINGTON -- The financial crisis and the Great Recession have taken a heavy toll on the U.S. and now one advocacy group says it has calculated that cost: at least $12.8 trillion.

The estimate Wednesday from Better Markets, a public interest group that supports tougher financial regulations, came in a 72-page report released just days before the four-year anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Bros. That failure triggered the crisis, which dramatically exacerbated the recession that began in late 2007.

"People actually shouldn’t be surprised there is a big number when you’re adding up the costs of what's happened to this country," said Dennis Kelleher, the group's chief executive, who hopes the report will be used to offset complaints by Wall Street about the cost of new regulations spurred by the crisis.

"Wall Street and its many allies and sympathizers are denying and understating the cost of the crisis to kill, weaken and avoid regulation," he told reporters.

The report tries to calculate the effect of the crisis and recession in terms of reduced economic output, and the costs of stabilizing the markets and bailing out banks and large financial firms. The estimate builds off previous calculations, including one by economists Alan S. Blinder and Mark Zandi.

They released a report in 2010 estimating the total budgetary cost of the financial crisis at $2.35 trillion.

Better Markets used that as a jumping-off point for what it says is a conservative estimate of the true costs of the crisis.

The group estimated the loss in actual gross domestic product from 2008 to 2018 will be $7.6 trillion. Then they used the estimates of Blinder and Zandi to add an additional figure -- an estimate of how much GDP loss was avoided by government bailouts and other interventions.

That figure was $5.2 trillion from 2008 to 2012. It was added to the $7.6 trillion to produce the total estimated cost of the crisis and recession.

Better Markets did not calculate the cost of the government bailouts, such as the rescue of American International Group Inc., which the Treasury Department said this week would produce a profit of at least $15.1 billion.

Instead, the group decided to use the estimate of how much of a hit to GDP was avoided by the bailouts as a component of the cost of the economic problems.

Kelleher said the $12.8 trillion total understates the overall costs of the crisis because it does not include other factors, such as the loss of home equity from the collapse of the housing market.

He said the group hopes the estimate starts a conversation about the costs of the crisis, which would help offset Wall Streets complaints about the costs of new regulations.

"If you don’t think it’s $12.8 trillion, what do you think it is?" he said. "If we’re off by half, you’re at $6.4 trillion -- and we’re not off by half."

US GDP Chart

US GDP data by YCharts

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