I'm as scared and confused as anyone when it comes to economics and the crisis going on this week. I am fortunate to have a financial advisor (hi Dad!) who I trust does have a solid perspective on how the market works and all the panic around it, and articles such as this one in the Village Voice that he points out on the history of the problem prove to be extremely informative and clarifying. It's long, arduous reading, and it definitely has its own take on who/what to blame, but my understanding of the basic issues, terms and key players exponentially increased after reading it. (If you're anything like me you'll need to have an economics dictionary or Google handy.)
On the flip side, we do well to remember that we all contribute to the problem as this article that Killpoets found points out.