Enough about Conrad Cafritz. Spare the world more tales about the travails of Dwight Schar, Dominic Antonelli Jr., et al. These real estate dealmakers are taking their lumps, but that's the nature of the game they played with such abandon. They knew the risks going in.

The simple truth is that a good many real estate developers and investors overextended themselves and their companies, took on too much debt at a time when the market was clearly softening and built too many projects on borrowed money. The market went into a trough, and now they owe a lot of money to a lot of banks and other lenders, from Fairfax County to Finland and from Tysons Corner to Tokyo.

The larger issues are how this all is affecting the economy and what happens to the real estate and banking industries as they struggle to get through one of their worst slumps ever. And what about all the people who have been and are likely to be hurt by the excesses of the dealmakers and the complicity of lenders?

The real estate development industry, in the Washington market at least, is at a virtual standstill. At the same time, bad real estate loans are wringing banks dry of earnings and capital. A similar scenario is being played out up and down the East Coast.

The Cafritzes and the others will be around regardless of what happens to the lending institutions that agreed to finance their excesses. The more critical question is: What happens to the economy if several banks topple under the weight of bad real estate loans?

This accumulation of debt is the bitter harvest of speculative land-grabbing and building, overindulgent lending practices and the failure of bank regulators to intervene at a time when all the classic warning signs were flashing.

Only now do federal regulators step to the microphones and declare that serious real estate problems in the District, Maryland, Virginia and other East Coast states are weakening the nation's banks. That analysis by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. last week is almost anticlimactic. The problems were evident earlier this year in the quarterly earnings reports of banks from Richmond to Boston. What's more, the glut of commercial space that began to pile up at least two years ago had become a harbinger of the spreading real estate recession.

The economy is shaken but the indebtedness of a few high-flying real estate dealmakers has given them something akin to celebrity status. Like Donald Trump, they have become newsmakers of late -- not for the successes they have achieved in business but for their excesses.

Virtually everything Cafritz owns is "at jeopardy," an unidentified source said in an interview with Washington Post staff writer David S. Hilzenrath.

That's unfortunate, but Cafritz will manage somehow to survive. So will some of the others with huge tabs at the nation's banks. These investor-debtors will find a way to squirrel away enough of their personal wealth. Documents made available to a Washington Post reporter showed that Cafritz has sought to shelter part of his wealth by transferring his interest in a trust, estimated to be worth $7 million, to his wife.

Others simply won't make it in the banking and real estate shakeout. That's to be expected in a high-risk game where the players know going in that the roll of the dice could come up craps.

It need not have been a crap shoot. Major real estate developers such as the Oliver Carr Co., Hazel-Peterson Cos., the John Akridge Co. and the Charles E. Smith Cos. have amply demonstrated that by the relative strength they maintain in the current downturn.

A prominent industry executive, during a recent conversation, provided an instructiveIn the next business cycle, some of the dealmakers who are making headlines today probably won't be around. explanation for the marked differences. "I think it has to do with being in control of your business, having a business plan and knowing what it is," said the executive, who asked that his name not be used out of concern about business relationships with competitors.

"The people who aren't in trouble have a sound {business} plan that they follow. The people who get in trouble," added the executive, "are the deal junkies. They do a deal for a deal for a deal.

"It's almost like drugs," he said of the incessant urge to do more deals. "You make a deal for the sake of doing a deal and pretty soon you lose sight of your business plan. All of a sudden somebody stops the turntable and things fall off.

"I don't think it's magic. It's not mystical. Land is a dead-weight liability. It's impossible to carry a huge inventory in a down market."

The shock wave created by overbuilding is nothing new, the official noted. "We have exactly the same situation in which the REITs {real estate investment trusts} almost took the banks down in the early '70s. You have too much money chasing too little demand. Why we do this as an industry, I don't know. Every time we do this we lose 15 to 20 percent of the industry."

Still, the same official sees better times ahead, though not for at least the next two years. "There's good news and there's bad news," he said. "The bad news is that we built too much product. Lenders lent too much money. We're going to lease more new square footage this year {than} in the history of the city, for example, and the vacancy rate will still go up.

"The good news is that at the end of this cycle, there are going to be tremendous inflationary gains in real estate. The lenders who would lend to anyone who said 'real estate' aren't lending now. So we aren't going to build any more product. What you see is what you get.

"By the time we work the surplus off, it will be too late to get the production machinery going," he added. "We are going to be out of empty office space and we're going to be out of empty houses. It takes a long time to retool the industry. We've shut it down."

He didn't have to finish the scenario. When supply lags behind demand, prices will go up, and those who are well positioned will reap the inflationary gains.

In the next cycle, some of those who are making headlines today probably won't be around, having fallen through the cracks with the 15 percent to 20 percent who usually fail to make it in a depressed market. There'll be other deal junkies, nonetheless, driven by the elixir of the deal.