by Michael Lewis
2011 / audio
read by Dylan Baker – 7.14 started 12/31/11
Lewis is reminding me of an economic Bill Bryson – he comes off as arrogant in general and quite condescending about Iceland’s difficulties. I’m not a fan of Bryson although some of his books are quite good, imo, too often, he mean spiritedly pokes fun at people. But he’s loved by many – and so is Lewis – we’ll see where this one goes.
First Lewis hits Iceland – how fishermen thought they could be bankers with a few little ideas taken from the West. Borrow yen, convert it to Euros, invest it in real estate, trade that with each other at inflated prices, get new loans based on inflated values and so it goes … whatever. With everyone being a banker, the big banks failed.
Then he travels to Greece where government spending needs bankrupted the banks. Corruption is rampant, a part of the culture. Debts are hidden, taxes not paid, assets are over-valued or under-valued. Riots ensued when economic measures were attempted. At this point they have made and agreement with Europe but will they honor their commitment?
Ireland, otoh, has a different problem – the government has already bailed out the banks and the people are having to come to grips with that and pay up. Lewis is much gentler with Ireland – no name-calling, a sense of wonder at their astounding growth during the early 21st century. Bankers who got in trouble were bankrupted and condemned personally. But the people picked up the tab.
Germany is in for some hard knocks and imo, rude ethnic jokes. Their strong point was their inherent economic conservatism and some pretty strict laws. Bankers who got rich in Germany did it in overseas markets. Mostly Germans were eternally optimistic and a bit ignorant – even at the end. Their plan to save Europe is not going to be an easy sell.
In the US California is the biggest problem. Between pension plans, the banking crisis and It was housing boom and then everything bust. All the cities are in a crisis.
This is a very informative book and I’m rating it accordingly. It’s funny and insightful and avoids language fraught with emergency situations – cause for panic. But the language is a bit too flip about ethnic causes to economic situations.