Once a year or so, the economist Diane Swonk ventures into the basement of her 1891 Victorian house outside Chicago and opens a plastic box containing the items that mean the most to her: awards, wedding pictures, the clothes she was wearing at the World Trade Center on the day it was attacked. But what she seeks out again and again is a bound diary of the events of the financial crisis and their aftermath.
“It’s useful to go back and see what a chaotic time it was and how terrifying it was,” she said. “That time is seared in my mind. I looked at it again recently, and all the pain came flooding back.”
A decade later, things are eerily calm. The economy, by nearly any official measure, is robust. Wall Street is flirting with new highs. And the housing market, the epicenter of the crash, has recovered in many places. But like the diary stored in Ms. Swonk’s basement, the scars of the financial crisis and the ensuing Great Recession are still with us, just below the surface.
The most profound of these is that the uneven nature of the recovery compounded a long-term imbalance in the accumulation of wealth. As a consequence, what it means to be secure has changed. Wealth, real wealth, now comes from investment portfolios, not salaries. Fortunes are made through an initial public offering, a grant of stock options, a buyout or another form of what high-net-worth individuals call a liquidity event.