Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Book review: Griftopia

I like polemics, they speak to a writer who is passionate, engaged and have a strong opinion about the topic upon which they write. Since this is also the way in which I often speak and debate, this type of writing is thoroughly engaging to me.

Considering how little emotion there is now about the financial crisis I was pleased to happen upon Griftopia, a book clearly written by someone who has channeled a great deal of anger into a topic which should anger anyone.

Written by Matt Taibbi, of Rolling Stone, Griftopia posits a relatively simple premise, that the US economy has been engineered by the major banks in a fashion which serves to stripmine the country for any remaining money (and credit) into the pockets of the aforementioned banks. The mechanism being used to achieve this is the creation of 'bubbles' within the economy, primarily the tech and housing bubbles.

Taibbi writes with an engaging style, often deeply profane but rarely without purpose. He is also one of the few writers who is able to write about high finance in a way which actually makes some sense. I've come away able to actually understand what derivatives are (somewhat) and why commodities trading is liable to leave us all broke.

This books fits well within the emerging narrative which I think is likely to define at least the next 20 years, the slow collapse of the United States, as it confronts growing internal and external problems. It deals with a major systemic problem, namely, that the political process has broken to such an extent that private interest can no long be restrained in any effective fashion. Although on a personal political level I dont believe in a great deal of regulation, but I also believe the private companies, left entirely to their own devices will slice the head off the goose that lays the golden egg searching for a massive immediate payoff, rather than taking their daily egg.

I always take a book like this with a pinch of salt, the writer has a point to make, and their proof will have been selected in order to make it. However, a part of me feels that if there was a solid case to be made that this book was a lie various banks would probably have come crashing down on his head in court. He specifically calls several out, particularly Goldman Sachs (who he describes as a 'vampire squid'), and directly blames them for knowingly creating a global recession and preparing to create another one. Thats the sort of thing you don't want in print if you're a major company.

Overall this is as thoroughly readable and interesting a discussion of how global finance as I've ever read. Unapologetic for its rage and all the better for it, it weaves a sage narrative about banks who are actively engaged in stripping America of its remaining assets and weakening the remaining legal statutes that will slow their progress.

A tragic tale of greed, capitalism perverted into something monsterous and men corrupted by the philosophy of pure profit.
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