Books

 

Written by a Nobel Prize recipient, a graduate of President Bill Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisors, and a stout advocate of Keynesian economics, this inquest into the recession of 2007–09 lashes many designated villains, banks above all. Writing in a spirit Andrew Jackson would have loved, Stiglitz assails financial institutions’ size, their executive compensation, the complexity of their financial instruments, and the taxpayer money that has been poured into them. But unlike Jackson, who didn’t understand a thing about economics, Stiglitz is a little more analytical. He dwells on incentives—perverse, in his argument—for risky financial legerdemain in housing mortgages. The temptations stemmed from deregulation of the financial industry, a Reaganesque policy Stiglitz rebukes: he favors re-regulation and more government involvement in the economy. In fact, Stiglitz waxes unhappily about the Obama administration’s interventions, which thus far have been inadequate in his view. Zinging the Federal Reserve for good measure, Stiglitz insistently and intelligently presses positions that challenge those of rightward-leaning economists upholding the virtues of markets. Amid animated contemporary economic debate, Stiglitz’s book will attract popular and professional attention.

The New York Times’s Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist reveals how the financial meltdown emerged from the toxic interplay of Washington, Wall Street, and corrupt mortgage lenders

In Reckless Endangerment, Gretchen Morgenson, the star business columnist of The New York Times, exposes how the watchdogs who were supposed to protect the country from financial harm were actually complicit in the actions that finally blew up the American economy.

Drawing on previously untapped sources and building on original research from coauthor Joshua Rosner—who himself raised early warnings with the public and investors, and kept detailed records—Morgenson connects the dots that led to this fiasco.

Morgenson and Rosner draw back the curtain on Fannie Mae, the mortgage-finance giant that grew, with the support of the Clinton administration, through the 1990s, becoming a major opponent of government oversight even as it was benefiting from public subsidies. They expose the role played not only by Fannie Mae executives but also by enablers at Countrywide Financial, Goldman Sachs, the Federal Reserve, HUD, Congress, the FDIC, and the biggest players on Wall Street, to show how greed, aggression, and fear led countless officials to ignore warning signs of an imminent disaster.

Character-rich and definitive in its analysis, this is the one account of the financial crisis you must read.

Reich (Supercapitalism), secretary of labor under Bill Clinton and former economic adviser to President Obama, argues that Obama’s stimulus package will not catalyze real recovery because it fails to address 40 years of increasing income inequality. The lessons are in the roots of and responses to the Great Depression, according to Reich, who compares the speculation frenzies of the 1920s–1930s with present-day ones, while showing how Keynesian forerunners like FDR’s Federal Reserve Board chair, Marriner Eccles, diagnosed wealth disparity as the leading stress leading up to the Depression. By contrast, sharing the gains of an expanding economy with the middle class brought unprecedented prosperity in the postwar decades, as the majority of workers earned enough to buy what they produced. Despite occasional muddled analyses (of the offshoring of industrial production in the 1990s, for example), Reich’s thesis is well argued and frighteningly plausible: without a return to the “basic bargain” (that workers are also consumers), the “aftershock” of the Great Recession includes long-term high unemployment and a political backlash–a crisis, he notes with a sort of grim optimism, that just might be painful enough to encourage necessary structural reforms.

The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine is a 2010 non-fiction book by Michael Lewis about the build-up of the housing and credit bubble during the 2000s. It describes several of the key players in the creation of the credit default swap market that sought to bet against the bubble and thus ended up profiting from the financial crisis of 2007–2010. The book also highlights the eccentric nature of the type of person who bets against the market or goes against the grain. The work follows people who believed the bubble was going to burst, like Meredith Whitney, who predicted the demise of Citigroup and Bear Stearns; Steve Eisman, an anti-social hedge fund manager; Greg Lippmann, a Deutsche Bank trader that created the first CDS market by matching buyers and sellers; the founders of Cornwall Capital, who started a hedge fund in their garage with $100,000 and built it into $120 million when the market crashed; and Dr. Michael Burry, an ex-neurologist who created Scion Capital despite suffering from blindness in one eye and Asperger’s syndrome.The book also highlights some of the biggest losses created by the market crash: like Merrill’s $300 million mezzanine CDO manager Wing Chau; Howie Hubler, infamously known as the person who lost $9 billion in one trade, the largest single loss in history; and Joseph Cassano’s AIG Financial Products, which suffered over $99 billion in losses.

It was shortlisted for the 2010 Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award. It spent 28 weeks on the New York Times non-fiction bestseller list.

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