What lessons has the U.S. learned from the financial crisis?

We keep hearing that we must learn the lessons of the financial crisis to prevent it from happening again.

After sitting through panel discussions Wednesday on what should and should not be done, I learned that there may be wide agreement on ideas such as creating a resolution authority to address “too big to fail” institutions, but little consensus on the crisis’ underlying causes.

The Global Interdependence Center gathered two Federal Reserve Bank presidents, two congressmen, three investment professionals, and three economists to review, forecast and advise on the “post-crisis” environment.

As Eric S. Rosengren, president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, said, “Now is the time to be compiling and applying the lessons of the crisis and its lead-up.”

But he went on to say that there remains much disagreement on what the real lessons are. “The generally accepted narrative does not always stand up to closer scrutiny, and reacting to these narratives might lead to the wrong remedies,” Rosengren said.

What was plain from Wednesday’s conference at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia was that the financial shock’s wounds remain raw, if not life-threatening.

John Staley, president of Staley Capital Advisers Inc., missed the fear and panic of the early weeks of the crisis in September 2008. He said he was on safari, and while in Africa he saw an elephant torn apart by lions as buzzards circled overhead.

Asked at the time what he thought about the sight, the Pittsburgh investment manager said he replied, “Actually, this is what I think is going on in the U.S.”

Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Economy.com in West Chester, offered his thoughts on what the United States should do and not do with the various government assistance programs. For example, he recommended repeating bank stress tests, like the ones done last spring, and maintaining the Buy America Bonds program.

Zandi also said the federal government must confront the cost of the bailouts, stimulus efforts, and massive entitlement programs.

Unfortunately, he said, it may take another “financial event,” such as a falling dollar or high interest rates for a prolonged period, to push Washington to act.