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5 lessons of the Great Recession

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Such circumstances help explain why, in a new Christian Science Monitor/TIPP poll, 36 percent of Americans say the financial crisis has made the economy permanently weaker. Some 49 percent say the crisis weakened the economy, but that the problems will ultimately fade. Only 11 percent say the economy has already regained the ground lost during the crisis.

The past five years have hardly been all gloomy. The economy has improved, many debt-laden families and firms have cleaned up their books, and both corporations and regulators alike have taken major steps to make the financial system safer for the future.

Yet the task is far from finished. The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act – Congress's major response to the crisis, passed in 2010 – is only starting to be implemented. By one tally, federal agencies have completed less than half of some 398 required rulemakings under that law.

What did the country learn from the crisis? Could a similar collapse happen again? Here are five take-aways from a Great Recession that has indelibly affected a generation, in America and around the world.

1. A HOUSE ISN'T AN ATM.

With his trademark blend of humor and social criticism, Charles Dickens once described credit as a system in which "a person who can't pay, gets another person who can't pay, to guarantee that he can pay."

This ethos got pushed to its limit in the housing market in the early 2000s. Credit was extended far beyond prudent standards, resulting in a boom-and-bust cycle that, in turn, helped trigger a wider crisis. In the process, the credit bubble symbolized a broader lesson that history teaches again and again: The very financial system that helps to fuel growth in good times is also a source of big risk to the wider economy.

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