By Martin Webber
Business editor, BBC World Service
Unemployment in the United States is at its highest level for 26 years
The year 2009 was pretty traumatic for the world economy. Global output fell for the first time since the 1930s depression, but perhaps it was not quite as tough as many had feared 12 months ago when the whole financial system was close to breaking down.
The authorities' response was quick. They cut interest rates, boosted money supply and spent more, in particular subsidising consumers who wanted to buy a new motor vehicle.
How economies will react when such stimulus is removed in the coming months is yet to be seen.
In the United States unemployment has soared to 10% - not as bad as the 1930s when the figure was 25%, but a shock nonetheless.
China takes lead
The new workshop of the world is - of course - China.
In China, 150 million people are migrant workers, employed in factories hundreds of miles from their home villages.
We will tie executive pay to long term performance so sound decisions are rewarded instead of short term greed
US President Barack Obama
Many had to return to the countryside after factories closed when export orders dried up at the start of the year.
But with the Chinese government pumping cash into the economy through cheap lending, training schemes, construction projects and railway building, the migrant workers are on the move again.
The country achieved a strong 9% annual growth rate, adding to the sense that the worst of the global crisis has passed.
But the question is: have world leaders got to the root causes of what went wrong at the banks?
At September's summit in Pittsburgh, US President Obama was insisting that leaders were already getting to grips with the key issues.
"We will tie executive pay to long-term performance, so that sound decisions are rewarded instead of short term greed," he said.
"In short our financial system will be far different and more secure than the one that failed so dramatically last year," he concluded.
But summit declarations and changes in the real world are two different things.
As the year closes, the largest banks in the UK and US have once again announced big short-term profits and big bonuses for their traders - to the outrage of the general public.
Stephen Hester at RBS has replaced cash bonuses with deferral payments
After the speculative bubble of the 1920s transformed into the 1929 Wall Street crash, politicians moved fast to break up banks, ring-fencing the cash of ordinary citizens from the banks' speculative trading divisions, known now as "investment banks".
Many economists say this should happen again, but there is no sign of such a move so far.
The biggest bank bail-out in Britain came at the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) - owner of the NatWest branch network.
It has $450bn (£280bn) of so-called toxic assets that are so unwanted, they are impossible to value.
Stephen Hester is the new boss brought in to clean up RBS and he defends the high amounts paid out to bankers.
"We are treading a tightrope. We are leading the world in how we pay people in removing the cash bonuses and putting in deferral and claw-back and so on," he explains.
"But it does nobody any good if good people don't want to work for RBS," he says.
Asked whether banks should now be broken up, so the parts that hold ordinary savings are separate from riskier investment banks, he thinks it was wrong to get philosophically hung up on the shape of banks.
"We know that the crisis had nothing to do with the shape or the size of banks. What we also know is that the majority of banks that have failed have been narrow banks - either narrow investment banks or narrow mortgage banks or narrow consumer finance banks," he exhorts.
"I'm afraid the evidence is simply not there that it was the shape of banks that was the problem. The evidence is that narrow banks have tended to be riskier than more broadly-based banks," he says.
However, the respected London economist Roger Bootle thinks the status quo has to change.
It's all about the ego and the rewards of the chief executives concerned
Economist Roger Bootle
"I think there are pretty good arguments for breaking up conglomerate banks into their constituent parts, so we get greater clarity about where the risks really lie," he says.
He would go further than those who simply say separate the investment banks from the commercial banks, despite Stephen Hester saying the evidence is not behind that argument.
Mr Hestor says it is the universal banks with different types of operations that actually did better than the narrow banks.
"We had RBS as a universal bank - it did pretty badly, it seems to me," Mr Bootle argues.
"All sorts of banks did badly in this kerfuffle. I don't think frankly that's the issue," he says.
Roger Bootle: "I think there are good arguments for breaking up conglomerate banks."
"The issue is about getting clarity about which institutions the taxpayer should support, because we can't have a system under which banks can do whatever they like, pay themselves whatever they like and by the way, when they get into trouble, let's have the taxpayer bail them out."
Mr Bootle does not understand why RBS is still trying to build up an investment banking division, where 4-5,000 traders are taking speculative positions in financial markets.
"I don't understand why the government is allowing them to do it," he says, "It seems to me that their priority should be to get out of such areas and to concentrate their firepower on providing finance for British business and British households," he maintains.
There is a paradox about investment banking, because when it is profitable, it is very very profitable.
"We don't actually know whether - over the long run - investment banking is profitable at all," Mr Bootle says.
But do big banks like Goldman Sachs really generate wealth for an economy?
"Goldman Sachs is the most successful investment bank by far. It must be the most successful financial institution by far," he says.
"There is, though, a legitimate question about how far its own success translates into benefits for the economy overall.
"If it is a merger and acquisition activity, for instance, the evidence is pretty clear that on average, this activity adds nothing at all to human welfare. Actually, it destroys value," he asserts.
"It's all about the ego and the rewards of the chief executives concerned. Now when they're commissioning an investment bank to work with them, are they interested in the costs of all this to the shareholder? No, they're not."
Mr Bootle is, however, a fan of capitalism.
"I don't think the alternative is actually very attractive at all. It is, though, all about the type of capitalism," he says.
"Capitalism hasn't always been there - if you go back to the 19th Century, businesses on the whole were controlled by the people who owned them.
"So it is not surprising that we've come up against this problem of capitalism only in the past 30 or 40 years."
The year 2009 did see an 18% cent recovery in US share prices, but overall, investors will be more than happy to see the decade ending.
It was the worst calendar decade on record in the United States, with prices losing a half per cent every year on average.
But on a more upbeat note - if you take into account the gains from the 1990s share price bonanza - despite the recent losses, investors have still made 7% every year on average over 20 years.
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