After the fall

  @FortuneMagazine August 29, 2013: 7:02 AM ET
ANN16 opener
(Fortune)

The financial crisis landed in our living rooms on Sept. 15, 2008. Early that Monday morning, at 1:45 a.m., a band of lawyers for Lehman Brothers electronically filed for the largest bankruptcy in U.S. history. The government, led by Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, had told Lehman not to expect a bailout. The reckless bank would not be saved. No last-minute fire sale could be arranged this time -- the way Bear Stearns had been swallowed whole, for pennies on the dollar, by J.P. Morgan six months earlier. The way that Merrill Lynch, Wall Street's venerable bull, was auctioned, over a frantic weekend, to Bank of America.

That morning, as throngs of pink-slipped workers streamed out of Lehman's Times Square headquarters, dozens of television news crews stationed there captured the event. The images -- pinstriped bankers carrying their belongings in boxes -- became a visual shorthand for corporate comeuppance.

Today, five years after the fall, they are a subtle reminder of the risk and uncertainty that still weave through the global financial system. Five years ago there was nothing subtle about it.

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