13 Bankers: The Wall Street Takeover and the Next Financial Meltdown

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In spite of its key role in creating the ruinous financial crisis of 2008, the American banking industry has grown bigger, more profitable, and more resistant to regulation than ever. Anchored by six megabanks whose assets amount to more than 60 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, this oligarchy proved it could first hold the global economy hostage and then use its political muscle to fight off meaningful reform. 13 Bankers brilliantly charts the rise to power of the financial sector and forcefully argues that we must break up the big banks if we want to avoid future financial catastrophes.
 
Updated, with additional analysis of the government’s recent attempt to reform the banking industry, this is a timely and expert account of our troubled political economy.
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About the author

Simon Johnson is Ronald A. Kurtz Professor of Entrepreneurship at MIT’s Sloan School of Management and a senior fellow of the Peterson Institute for International Economics. He is coauthor, with James Kwak, of The Baseline Scenario, a leading economic blog, described by Paul Krugman as “a must-read” and by Bill Moyers as “one of the most informative news sites in the blogosphere.”
 
James Kwak is an Associate Professor at the University of Connecticut School of Law. He previously co-founded Guidewire Software.
 
Visit the authors' blog at baselinescenario.com.

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Additional Information

Publisher
Vintage
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Published on
Mar 30, 2010
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Pages
336
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ISBN
9780307379221
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Language
English
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Genres
Business & Economics / Banks & Banking
Business & Economics / Economic History
Political Science / Political Economy
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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America is mired in debt—more than $30,000 for every man, woman, and child. Bitter fighting over deficits, taxes, and spending bedevils Washington, D.C., even as partisan gridlock has brought the government to the brink of default. Yet the more politicians on both sides of the aisle rant and the citizenry fumes, the more things seem to remain the same.
 
In White House Burning, Simon Johnson and James Kwak—authors of the national best seller 13 Bankers and cofounders of The Baseline Scenario, a widely cited blog on economics and public policy—demystify the national debt, explaining whence it came and, even more important, what it means to you and to future generations. They tell the story of the Founding Fathers’ divisive struggles over taxes and spending. They chart the rise of the almighty dollar, which makes it easy for the United States to borrow money. They account for the debasement of our political system in the 1980s and 1990s, which produced today’s dysfunctional and impotent Congress. And they show how, if we persist on our current course, the national debt will harm ordinary Americans by reducing the number of jobs, lowering living standards, increasing inequality, and forcing a sudden and drastic reduction in the government services we now take for granted.
 
But Johnson and Kwak also provide a clear and compelling vision for how our debt crisis can be solved while strengthening our economy and preserving the essential functions of government. They debunk the myth that such crucial programs as Social Security and Medicare must be slashed to the bone. White House Burning looks squarely at the burgeoning national debt and proposes to defuse its threat to our well-being without forcing struggling middle-class families and the elderly into poverty.
 
Carefully researched and informed by the same compelling storytelling and lucid analysis as 13 Bankers, White House Burning is an invaluable guide to the central political and economic issue of our time. It is certain to provoke vigorous debate.
Why are we in such a financial mess today? There are lots of proximate causes: over-leverage, global imbalances, bad financial technology that lead to widespread underestimation of risk.
But these are all symptoms. Until we isolate and tackle fundamental causes, we will fail to extirpate the disease. ECONned is the first book to examine the unquestioned role of economists as policy-makers, and how they helped create an unmitigated economic disaster.

Here, Yves Smith looks at how economists in key policy positions put doctrine before hard evidence, ignoring the deteriorating conditions and rising dangers that eventually led them, and us, off the cliff and into financial meltdown. Intelligently written for the layman, Smith takes us on a terrifying investigation of the financial realm over the last twenty-five years of misrepresentations, naive interpretations of economic conditions, rationalizations of bad outcomes, and rejection of clear signs of growing instability.

In eConned, author Yves Smith reveals:

--why the measures taken by the Obama Administration are mere palliatives and are unlikely to pave the way for a solid recovery

--how economists have come to play a profoundly anti-democratic role in policy

--how financial models and concepts that were discredited more than thirty years ago are still widely used by banks, regulators, and investors

--how management and employees of major financial firms looted them, enriching themselves and leaving the mess to taxpayers

--how financial regulation enabled predatory behavior by Wall Street towards investors

--how economics has no theory of financial systems, yet economists fearlessly prescribe how to manage them

"Hell is empty, and
all the devils are here."
-Shakespeare, The Tempest

As soon as the financial crisis erupted, the finger-pointing began. Should the blame fall on Wall Street, Main Street, or Pennsylvania Avenue? On greedy traders, misguided regulators, sleazy subprime companies, cowardly legislators, or clueless home buyers?

According to Bethany McLean and Joe Nocera, two of America's most acclaimed business journalists, the real answer is all of the above-and more. Many devils helped bring hell to the economy. And the full story, in all of its complexity and detail, is like the legend of the blind men and the elephant. Almost everyone has missed the big picture. Almost no one has put all the pieces together.

All the Devils Are Here goes back several decades to weave the hidden history of the financial crisis in a way no previous book has done. It explores the motivations of everyone from famous CEOs, cabinet secretaries, and politicians to anonymous lenders, borrowers, analysts, and Wall Street traders. It delves into the powerful American mythology of homeownership. And it proves that the crisis ultimately wasn't about finance at all; it was about human nature.

Among the devils you'll meet in vivid detail:

• Angelo Mozilo, the CEO of Countrywide, who dreamed of spreading homeownership to the masses, only to succumb to the peer pressure-and the outsized profits-of the sleaziest subprime lending.

• Roland Arnall, a respected philanthropist and diplomat, who made his fortune building Ameriquest, a subprime lending empire that relied on blatantly deceptive lending practices.

• Hank Greenberg, who built AIG into a Rube Goldberg contraption with an undeserved triple-A rating, and who ran it so tightly that he was the only one who knew where all the bodies were buried.

• Stan O'Neal of Merrill Lynch, aloof and suspicious, who suffered from "Goldman envy" and drove a proud old firm into the ground by promoting cronies and pushing out his smartest lieutenants.

• Lloyd Blankfein, who helped turn Goldman Sachs from a culture that famously put clients first to one that made clients secondary to its own bottom line.

• Franklin Raines of Fannie Mae, who (like his predecessors) bullied regulators into submission and let his firm drift away from its original, noble mission.

• Brian Clarkson of Moody's, who aggressively pushed to increase his rating agency's market share and stock price, at the cost of its integrity.

• Alan Greenspan, the legendary maestro of the Federal Reserve, who ignored the evidence of a growing housing bubble and turned a blind eye to the lending practices that ultimately brought down Wall Street-and inflicted enormous pain on the country.

Just as McLean's The Smartest Guys in the Room was hailed as the best Enron book on a crowded shelf, so will All the Devils Are Here be remembered for finally making sense of the meltdown and its consequences.

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