Yes. That's the astonishing conclusion of a paper presented at the Brookings Institution that I'm still having trouble wrapping my mind around. The author, economist James Hamilton, can hardly believe the conclusions of his economic model, himself (I've got company), but the findings are remarkable, nonetheless.
Hamilton went back to 2003, when crude oil was around $30 a gallon and
forecast what an oil shock like the one we experienced in 2007-08 (when
oil peaked around $140) would do to GDP. He graphed the result through
the end of 2008 and, lo and behold, it was damn close to actual GDP. As
though there were no such thing as a collaterized debt obgligation in
the first place! Here's the graph (the orange dotted line is Hamilton's
projection given oil prices; the black line is actual GDP):
Perhaps you'll join me in thinking: Huh? Are we really to believe that this whole thing was caused by oil shocks? I mean, it certainly makes you appreciate the mess Detroit is in, but really. How anti-climactic. It makes this crisis seem so ... 1970s.
What about real estate, subprime mortgages and defaults? Hamilton says the housing industry had been tightening up long before the recession -- "subtracting 0.94% from the average annual GDP growth rate over 2006:Q4-2007:Q3." And housing is factored into Hamilton's analysis. It was just one of a handful of multipliers that always turn down during oil shocks.