"fear was a sign that you were awake and intelligent. Anyone who wasn't scared had no idea how close we were to the abyss. I was scared too. It looked like the system was going to collapse."
The economy was losing as many as 775,000 jobs in a month, no one knew for sure whether any bank in the country was sound, the stock market had dropped like a stone and spending had dried up putting millions of jobs at risk, not least in the US car factories.
The situation now looks radically different. Obama saved the US car industry by state intervention. He and George Bush saved the US and the world banking system by state intervention. Effectively Obama saved the private sector from its own excesses. And he got the economy back into a period of growth by pumping money into the system that they created from thin air - the famous quantitative easing.
The US has been growing pretty consistently now for the best part of five years. Interest rates are low, inflation is low, unemployment is down and sales are up. On almost all the traditional indictors of a successful economy the US is looking pretty rock solid. Yet Obama hasn't reaped the benefit. Personally he isn't popular. Nor is his party. You would have thought that the contrast in the US economic situation would have resulted in a shoe in for an Obama clone at the next election.
Instead we are seeing the emergence of a wide range of unexpected candidates. On the right we have Trump together with people who are supposedly more moderate but are firmly anti-abortion, ultra anti welfare, climate change deniers. On the left, for the first time in my lifetime someone who calls himself a socialist is actually collecting votes in primary campaigns and isn't written off as a no hoper.
Something is making electors very uneasy and to cast around for alternatives. Much the same trend is happening in several countries at the same time. In the UK we have UKIP gaining 4 million votes, the Greens, Scottish Nationalists and Plaid Cymru gaining well over 2 million on a strong anti austerity ticket and the election of Corbyn. In France we have the unsettling phenomena of the Front National regularly recording frightening voting proportions in local elections and looking like it will once again come second in the Presidential elections.
I think the main reason for this is that the middle and working classes in the rich Western nations have lost their sense of security. Their wages in real terms have either not risen or gone down over the last 10 years. Housing is becoming unaffordable for the younger generation. Welfare budgets have been slashed and there seems to be no safety net. Education has become incredibly expensive and still doesn't guarantee a route to a highly paid professional career. Job security has gone.
In the 1960s a Conservative Government went to the British public with the slogan "You have never had it so good." They won. They were able to boast of how many council houses they had built and how effectively they were using public expenditure to invest in the future. They had a top rate of income tax of over 90% and prided themselves on the existence of a welfare state.
How times have changed. No UK or US Government could persuade people to believe that things are better than they have ever been. Growth may have returned but it has not been a healthy sustainable growth that has benefitted all. It has been a growth in property prices and the service sector associated with it. It has been a return to growth in the finance industries. At the same time both countries are running massive balance of payments deficits. Ordinary people are finding that the organisations they work for are, or are claiming to be, under such strong foreign competition that the intensity of work is increasing, jobs are being shed, pension schemes devalued and wages kept low. There is no feel good factor for a simple reason. Life is pretty tough for the majority of ordinary people and they don't have faith that their leaders understand that and are going to do something about it. They hear clever calculated answers to questions and see slick and professional campaigns but they don't believe that the benefits are going to come their way.
On top of this there is a lack of confidence that 2008 won't happen again. There are indeed plenty of indicators that could make anyone believe that Obama has pretty much fixed things. On the other hand there is a nagging fear that nothing fundamental has changed. We have had one major crash. We have yet to see any of our mainstream politicians or economists properly explain why it happened and why it can never happen again. The standard explanation appears to be it was all a bit of bad luck and we needn't worry our pretty little heads over the possibility of it happening again.
Not surprisingly people aren't buying this. They are looking for a more fundamental solution. They might very well find it in the ideas of UKIP, Trump and the Front National. There is a serious possibility that the battle for hearts and minds will be won by those blaming it all on them lousy foreigners and believing that if we just look after ourselves the rest of the world will go away.
There is, however, another possibility. Since it took state intervention to save capitalism from collapse perhaps we can use the same tool to invest in a more sustainable future and a better safety net for our citizens. Done skilfully and with determination there is no reason why we could not transform our economy into a low energy consuming, low waste, productive society provided that we plan properly. We need a coherent plan to target our resources into building an economy that is adapted to the next phase of the industrial revolution. We are perfectly capable of running our society in ways that don't use up the planet and does give ordinary people a civilised life. We need a vibrant private sector to help us do that. But after 2008 it should be clear to everyone that you need to manage markets and a bit of planning is no bad thing. The market will fix not every problem automatically. It won't fix a bad crash. It won't fix an environmental crisis. It won't provide ordinary people with security.
Humanity is supposed to be an intelligent species. We need to think and plan our way out of the mess we have created and our politicians need to start the serious work of creating some security for our citizens and for our planet.