IT TAKES A PILLAGE: BEHIND THE BAILOUTS, BONUSES, AND BACKROOM DEALS FROM WASHINGTON TO WALL STREET
Nomi Prins (Wiley John & Sons)
I was half way through this book when the Christchurch quake hit which was kind of appropriate in a way.
In It Takes A Pillage Nomi Prins, a former manager at Goldman Sachs, chronicles the financial quake that brought Wall Street and world capitalism to its knees in 1998 The aftershocks are, of course continuing to reverberate around the world as the global economy remains stuck in the quagmire that it created for itself.
If you, like me, are heartily sick of the PR spin that masquerades as financial journalism, this book is a good antidote.
It Takes A Pillage is a fascinating account of 'The Crash' and its aftermath because it is written by someone who was once at the very heart of Wall Street and knows where all the bodies are buried.
For me, one of the striking themes that emerges is that the public face of Wall Street bares little resemblance to what it is really up to in its plush offices within the glass towers.
During the 'financial boom', the public face of Wall Street was one of sobriety and responsibility. Traders , financial advisers and bankers behaved as if they knew what they were doing and were guiding the United Sates and the world to a new level of economic prosperity. They were the same people who advised Government's all around the world and appeared in the media pontificating on anything and everything.
Those of us who had an alternative view were simply crowded out.
But, as we now know, what the market 'gurus' really did was construct a flimsy House of Cards built on a foundation of shonky financial schemes, corrupt practices and a whole load of creative accounting. Prins zeroes on the deceit, the bravado, the arrogance and the greed of her former colleagues.
But very few of these financial wizards have had to pay a price for their criminality. Instead its ordinary Americans who have been forced to carry the burden of the crisis. Ordinary Americans have lost their jobs, their homes , their futures.
In contrast Wall Street has had trillions of dollars thrown at it by the Obama administration.
Prins has calculated that, as of December 2009, Obama had bailed out Wall Street to the tune $11. 2 trillion. It's a figure that can barely be grasped. New Zealand's total debt to foreign institutions, $263 billion, (which is more than our total GDP incidentally)), certainly pales in comparison.
Despite this massive transfer of wealth to Wall Street, the bailout has not worked.
Much to the acute embarrassment of Obama, the 'People's President' new census figures show that one out of every seven Americans is now living below the official poverty level, the highest proportion since the 1960s. One in five American children is living in poverty.
Officially that would indicate that some 45 million people were living below the official poverty line in 2009.
But this official poverty level, an annual income of $22,000 for a family of four, massively underestimates the level of income required for a decent life. The real number of people living in actual economic distress is much higher, perhaps as much as 100 million.
In her book Nomi Prins writes : 'In 1933, at the peak of the four-year depression, around 1,000 homes were foreclosed every day. ... By comparison, 10,000 homes were foreclosed daily by early 2009.'