I have been reading Noah Smith  work and found very interesting, sharing the  2008,  financial crisis that was unfolding, there was bloga big argument as to whether the crisis was a “liquidity crisis” or a “solvency crisis”. It’s a very important distinction. A “liquidity crisis” is when banks (or similar finance companies) are financially in the black – their assets are greater than their liabilities – but they can’t get the cash to keep paying their bills in the short term. A bank run is the classic example of a liquidity crisis – even if the bank could eventually pay everyone back, it can’t pay them back all at once, so if people get scared and all try to withdraw their money in a rush, they force the bank to collapse. A “solvency crisis”, on the other hand, is when finance companies are actually bankrupt, and no amount of short-term borrowing will change that fact.

This question has important policy implications in a financial crisis. If companies are illiquid but solvent, you just need to have the Fed lend them money to tide them over until liquidity comes back. If they’re insolvent, you either need to bail them out, or help them into an orderly bankruptcy, in order to reduce systemic risk caused by disorderly failure. Continue reading