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Paul Lennox, analyst at Custom House, a Canadian investment company, said the big, half-point rate cuts by half a dozen central banks Wednesday show how desperate governments have become in the face of unresponsive credit markets, which remained largely dysfunctional Wednesday.

As long as banks and investors remain unwilling to make loans at any rate of interest, “cutting central bank rates further is very much like pushing on a string. The banks were probably aware of this,” he said, but wanted to put on a show of force to impress the markets.

“So far, the coordinated rate cut has only undermined the market’s confidence in the effectiveness of the central banks to do anything to make a real difference in this environment,” he said. “The sense is that the banks are only delaying the eventual write-off of trillions of dollars of credit derivative junk. … The central banks can’t fix or undo the damage to the financial sector.”

One of the big questions looming in the overwrought atmosphere of recent weeks is whether political leaders will continue to respond to the crisis in an enlightened way without being too hobbled by the heat of the elections. Many forecasters say the economy’s health depends on it.

Charles Geisst, a finance professor at Manhattan College, sees a parallel to 1932, when credit markets were imploding and the stock market was falling just ahead of the presidential election that put Franklin D. Roosevelt in the White House.

“But I’m not sure anyone is FDR this time,” said Mr. Geisst, author of “Wall Street: a History.” He said the odds of another Great Depression are 50 percent.

“I don’t think either candidate has a clue what they’re dealing with here,” he said. “This is more than a political problem that’s going to blow over.”