During the 1990s, Japan's government passed economic stimulus packages with tedious regularity—and depressed consumers and investors equally reliably failed to respond. It was as if the authorities were pushing on a string. A decade later, in the United States, the economic predicament is much the same. Last Friday's gigantic $700bn rescue package for American banks has failed to stop shares plunging this morning. The Dow Jones share index just fell below 10,000 for the first time in four years.