13 Bankers: The Wall Street Takeover and the Next Financial Meltdown by Simon Johnson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A decent read, though not earthshaking if you have read much else in this genre. For instance, the author mentions trader-turned-law-professor Frank Partnoy and one of his works on the subject - the ground-breaking FIASCO, Blood in the Water - where Partnoy surfaces the use of the phrase "ripping his face off" when it came to traders burning clients and making huge piles of cash while doing it, and does some of the first modern-day muckraking around derivatives and those who profit from them.
That said, 13 Bankers is a broad work that does an excellent job of chronologically telling the story of how our fat pig of a financial system got to be where it is today. It is a story of greed, lobbying, more greed, loose regulation, under regulation, you-scratch-my-back-I'll-scratch-yours lack of regulation, enforcement and serious prosecution or penalty ... and more greed.
One area that 13 Bankers illuminates well is the grotesque growth in salaries in the financial services industries since the end of World War II. Shameful and greedy, no other way to look at it. This growth mirrors the rather inorganic growth of the megabanks themselves, from once-manageable entities contributing to the growth of Main Street to the greedy Goliaths they are today.
The American government, both through active collusion and passive failures to act, has failed its citizens, and the world at large, when it comes to reining in this monolithic industry full of "too big to fail" corporate entities who happily make money off the back of the rest of America. 13 Bankers is one of those works that is destined to make you angry.
If you have read no other nonfiction work about our modern financial system, 13 Bankers is the right place to start. If your reading list on the subject is more comprehensive, 13 Bankers is worth consideration, but not a must-read.
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