1001 Books To Read Before Your Kindle Battery Dies, Part 10
Matt Taibbi, Griftopia: A Story of Bankers, Politicians, and the Most Audacious Power Grab in American History, and Michael Lewis, Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World
Let us first acknowledge: today’s economic mess is not partisan. Tea Party
agitators have a point. Many small entrepreneurs get nickel-and-dimed
out of the market by petty regulations, enabled by bureaucrats with no
discretion over the rules they enforce. But agitators assume the same
applies equally, everywhere. It doesn't. Politicians left and right hold
the door for moneyed interests, in a hogs-to-the-trough orgy that has
not included schleps like us.
Taibbi writes: “We live in an economy that is immensely complex and we
are completely at the mercy of the small group of people who understand
it—who incidentally often happen to be the same people who built these
wildly complex economic systems. We have to trust these people to do the
right thing, but we can't, because, well, they're scum. Which is kind
of a big problem, when you think about it."
the home mortgage bubble to the commodity run to the investment bank
bailout to the health care reform cock-up, Taibbi examines the ways
money has permeated all corners of public life, lifting the rock and
watching the cockroaches scurry. This is an angry book for angry people,
which in the wake of the TARP mess we all were. Years later, we must
ask, does enough of that anger remain that politicians will fear the
cadre exists on Wall Street that has gotten obscenely rich without
contributing any value to the economy. Their machinations distort the
value of a buck for the rest of us. While wage earners see their
standard of living stagnate, a tiny few grow so rich that they call the
very idea of money into question. While politicians and journalists
treat those few like secular saints, only Matt Taibbi has pioneered the
path of calling them the dirt they are, to their faces.
story is not without controversy. Taibbi admits that the Rolling Stone
magazine article which spawned this book drew brutal criticism.
Financial journalists excoriated this outsider for calling jerks what
they are, right up until the moment they joined the chorus. Taibbi's
thesis (minus, perhaps, the cuss words) now represents the mainstream of
American financial commentary. But still, Taibbi puts it forthrightly,
without prettifying the hideous.
journalist Michael Lewis concurs: "Everywhere you turn you see
Americans sacrifice their long-term interests for a short-term reward."
But where he writes that, he's just spent an entire book proving how
that describes the entire developed world, gulled by promises of free
money and cheap prestige. Us Yanquis can clean our own house, but the
world remains awash in filth left by the receding housing tide of 2008.
travels to five countries that took the biggest bath in the 2008
financial crisis. Iceland had money lying around, got into investing,
and created pretty paper billionaires, but very real liabilities. Greece
wanted the respectability of Eurozone membership, but not the
responsibility. Ireland turned cheap bank deposits into a housing boom
nobody wanted. Germans played by the rules, but their banks didn't, and
left the state holding all Europe's bag.
Lewis unpacks America. For the most part, he unpacks California, which
he clearly regards as a microcosm of what went wrong nationwide.
Citizens want everything under the sun from the state, but refuse to pay
for it. Big entities fob their liabilities onto subordinates, then
plead helplessness when cities hit the wall. And time and again, we know
exactly who caused the problem, but refuse to call their bluff.
describes the circular circumstances that created this mess. Though he
has separate chapters for the five countries he examines, their
entanglements transcend mere borders. The almost balletic movement of
money on a global scale reveals that the financial folderol,
America-centric though much coverage has been, makes geographically
bound nation-states look creaky in light of transnational supply lines.
everything went kaput, the megaquadzillionaires who created the problem
claimed, with some justification, that if they suffered the
consequences of their irresponsibility, the entire economy would burn
with them. States rushed to buffer the people who bet staggering sums on
lame horses. Modest operators, who trusted their bosses and elected
leaders, took it on the chin. The result, as Lewis puts it: capitalism
for everybody but the capitalists.
impact from the 2008 crisis still creates shockwaves in politics and
society. Yet few of us can truly comprehend what happened. Taibbi and
Lewis translate that meltdown into plain English, and they demonstrate
how close we now are to permitting another catastrophic crash.