David Leonhardt says if you're confused by the current financial market problems you're not alone:

I’m here to urge you not to feel sheepish. This may not be entirely comforting, but your confusion is shared by many people who are in the middle of the crisis.

“We’re exposing parts of the capital markets that most of us had never heard of,” Ethan Harris, a top Lehman Brothers economist, said last week. Robert Rubin, the former Treasury secretary and current Citigroup executive, has said that he hadn’t heard of “liquidity puts,” an obscure kind of financial contract, until they started causing big problems for Citigroup.



Evidently, the very obscurity of the nature of the problem is part of the problem; there's little understanding of exactly how much bad debt is out there or who's on the hook for it.