New York museum opens exhibit on credit crisis

NEW YORK Wed Mar 25, 2009 2:30pm EDT

1 of 3. A man looks at a new exhibit tracking the financial crisis at the Museum of American Finance in New York March 25, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Eric Thayer

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The global economic crisis wears on, but the Museum of American Finance is already documenting its history in an exhibit that opened on Wednesday.

"Tracking the Credit Crisis" provides a timeline of the events that led to the current recession and translates the catchphrases of the economic downturn such as "securitization," "liquidity," and "derivative" for the average person.

"We're now entering what may well be the most challenging man-made calamity in modern experience, a global financial crisis of unprecedented size, speed, interconnectedness and complexity," said Lee Kjelleren, the chief executive of the museum, who said he hoped the exhibit would help the public understand events as they unfold.

The exhibit records events on Wall Street from February 2007 to February 2009 highlighting everything from the announcement by "The Concise Oxford Dictionary" that it would include the terms "subprime" and "credit crunch" in its next edition to Lehman Brothers' bankruptcy on September 15, 2008.

The last date on the timeline is March 2, 2009, when American International Group Inc announced a loss of $60 billion in the fourth quarter of 2008, the largest loss in U.S. corporate history. The museum has not yet caught up with AIG's controversial bonuses.

"You cannot really document history until well after the fact," acknowledges Leena Akhtar, who co-curated the exhibit at the museum just steps away from the New York Stock Exchange.

The museum says its mission is to reaffirm the power of an open, democratic, free-market economy, but this exhibit explores some of the failures that led to the current crisis.

The emphasis on big bonuses at American financial institutions and expectations for bank bailouts were partly responsible for the current crisis, Kjelleren said.

"If companies behave recklessly, they should not know in advance that the government is prepared to bail them out. Under capitalism, you have the freedom to fail," he said.

"We Americans exported toxic capitalism ... it's the goose that laid the golden egg, but this time it laid a bomb."

(Editing by Eric Beech)

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