Sunday, November 13, 2011

#84: All the Devils are Here: The Hidden History of the Financial Crisis by Bethany McLean and Joe Nocera

Portfolio Books: New York, 2010. 400 pages

If you are interested in what is going on behind the occupy Wall St. movement, read this book. It will piss you off, make your hair stand on end, make you want to punch anyone attached to Goldman Sachs or Countrywide or any other one of these collective groups of greedy bastards. Not that the government is completely blameless, as regulators "looked the other way" while AIG hid $750 million in bad loans connected to PNC bank in 2002. The deal should not have been made, but it was anyway. (198)

Nocera and McLean are longtime Wall St. reporters, well respected and widely read. In this book they do not throw certain people or companies under the bus. They treat all people in an evenhanded fashion, giving a blow by blow account of the financial crisis of 2008. This may cause some people problems, but who cares? This is a book full of flat out good reporting. Reporting in this day and age grinds axes and inserts opinions for fact. Nocera and McLean do NOT do this, and the result is an excellent book.

What makes me want to punch these greedy bastards? It is passages like this: the American Financial Service Association stated in 2005 that "it would be unnecessarily stringent to assess whether or not borrowers could repay a loan." (214) So, banks and lenders thought that it would hurt business if they were actually required to perform "due diligence" on borrowers.Add in that more than 35% of all mortgages in 2004 were actually refinancing loans, and any person could see that the housing market was a true house of cards. (255) Just like Madoff and his ponzi scheme, the traders at AIG betting on short sellers to not ask for their money back all at once. (193)

The biggest question the reader is left after reading this book is "How much is enough?" It should never be a bad thing to make money (even though it seems as if it is sometimes). What is important is how the money is made. For me, Bernie Madoff is a common thief and nothing more. He was a simple con man who used what people wanted to get what he wanted. The fuckers who ran Goldman, AIG and the rest are just greedy elites who saw riches and wanted more. Is there any sort of coincidence that 5 former Goldman execs had joined the government between 2004 and 2006? No, there is not. That's what occupy Wall Street is about; the federal government enables Wall Street fraud. Is this new? Of course it isn't. The history of this country is littered with financial scandals that implicated members of the Federal Government: Credit Mobilier and the Tea Pot Dome to name only two. This was a crisis created by greed and hubris, two of the defining elements of this country the last time we acquired a shoddy empire: 1890-1915.

Glenn Beck and most of the Republican Right wing should read a little more about that era, instead of the knee jerk reaction that Woodrow Wilson was a socialist. I'm sure Big Bill Haywood is spinning in his grave every time he hears that. In today's America who wrote something is just as important as what they were saying, so it would not matter anyway.

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