The world's economy is now like a huge gambling table, and the players collectively are betting several times the value of their assets.
FT Alphaville (thanks to Michael Panzner for the alert) gives the above graphs to show how much is at stake in the business of mutual guarantees known as "over the counter" (OTC) derivatives: over $500 trillion. That's not all: Wikipedia's article (last link shown) explains that there is also a separate class of Exchange-Traded derivatives.
These sums are quite unimaginable. But we can compare them with other figures: according to FT.com, the total value of the US and European stockmarkets in March this year was a mere $31 trillion. Wikipedia estimates that the total value of all stocks and bonds in the world is less than $100 trillion.
Our daily lives stand on a thin crust over this boiling financial melange. We'd sure better hope that the experts haven't bitten off more than they can chew.