In 2007 everyone discovered what Joseph Conrad knew: ‘[a civilised life is] a dangerous walk on a thin crust of barely cooled lava which at any moment might break and let the unwary sink into fiery depths.’1 The end arrived unexpectedly, reflecting author Alexander Pope’s description of the collapse of the 1720 South Sea Bubble: ‘Most people thought it wou’d come but no man prepar’d for it; no man consider’d it would come like a thief in the night, exactly as it happens in the case of death.’2

Air pockets

As interest rates increased from 1 per cent to 5.25 per cent per annum, reflecting higher oil and food prices, US house prices stalled and ...

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