I hope this professor will produce something newer, as I would be very interested in his post-2008 take on things. He mixes statistics (such as per capita GDP compared betwen countries, and changes in that over time) with the narrative history effectively. I wouldn't say I was stunned by any bit of information, but I was pleased with the overall walk-through, which sharpened my knowledge. He did have some very interesting stats and conjectures about what has and particularly hasn't worked in Africa and the Middle East. He works his way around the entire planet, and major economy-shaping events of the last several decades.
In mid-2008, delivering this lecture series, he seemed to have underestimated how bad things were going to get. But that is true of most people, including most economists.
His voice sometimes takes on a bit of an urgent or intense tone that can be slightly grating. But it is not significant, and wouldn't stop me from listening through this course (or others by him). I understand he has a lot to say in a compressed amount of time. I also enjoyed his global economic history of the 20th century.
This did not change what I have found unsatisfying about the major players pre-2008 (which included Tim Geithner as NY Fed boss): how this regulatory system drifted over time such that this outlandish other-worldly asset bubble and psychological mania got so raging across the whole financial business and society, without much substantive challenge by the watchmen. That lapse in leadership was beyond bizarre, and I have never heard a credible explanation. (I would say, a partial explanation is offered here: greed and stupidity are not against the law here.) That said, once things started slipping way out of control, some smart and steady hands grabbed the tiller, Geithner's included. There was incredible creativity involved, in the face of vast uncertainty and gale-force political complainers on all sides. It is great to have a front row seat here with the decision-makers. I am still amazed how we managed not to slide into Great Depression 2 (and potentially in my view, World War 3, which was the sequence the last time something this bad happened). George W. Bush had for once the good sense to get out of the way and let the pros call the shots. Tim Geithner is the kind of person I want in oversight positions: he understands the excruciating difficulty to chart a good (or at least, least-bad) course, understanding all the fallout that will happen, and hang on while the cheap shots come raining in from the extremes on both sides. His explanation of the thinking behind the policies here is clear and thoughtful. I am on many things a few degrees politically to his right, but I applaud his performance and his careful walk-through of it here. He defends himself to the degree one might expect of anyone, but he admits mistakes too.
Have you wondered why Goldman Sachs was paid 100 cents on the dollar on its AIG CDS contracts? Why punitive haircuts were not handed out all around? Find out here. I for one generally accept Geithner's explanations. Look, our system is widely intact and functioning today. Wow. It didn't happen by accident. There was a method to what seemed like madness, or corruption. Here it is, chronologically laid out. Also, there is a quick explanation of Dodd-Frank and a critique of its strengths and weaknesses. We are not out of the woods yet, and never will be. Lastly, I'm glad he read this. He is not a pro narrator, but it is ideal in his own voice.
I would retitle this, "lots of anecdotes in recent economic times, and maybe some useful stories and terminology for general background understanding." I do not find the repeated term "context" which jumps up willy-nilly, to lend any useful rigorous meaning or traction to understanding the twists and turns that have occurred. But for a person who has not followed this area closely over the last several years, there may be some useful info here.
Once upon a time there was a setting of relationship finance practiced between neatly stratified teams of jolly fellows (partners with skin in the game) who traded (as much as they traded financial instruments) lively ethical bon mots straight out of Horatio Alger stories around the Good Scout campfire. Each of them felt like a member of a family in their firms, and the warmed-over feelings flowed like glowing marmalade between them. There seemed never a conflict between fiduciary duties to make maximum profits for firm owners, and a willingness to endlessly bend over for counter-parties in arm's-length deals who, after all, in this wonderland of loyalty and bonhommie all around, had relationships that never ended. How wonderful it must have been to survey this landscape where resources were allocated around the richly set dinner tables without the faintest stain of actual competitive pressure. It was (the myth usually recites) that way, if not in old J.P. Morgan's day, then, post-Depression when financiers again had neat silos of privilege fenced off (this time) by New Deal regulations. WAKE-UP CALL: something called later 20th century history happened. It disrupted markets from the inside out, top to bottom, adding energy, if certain new instabilities. That fond older vision (if it existed) unraveled for everyone just like it unraveled for the dinosaurs and the endlessly well-employed horses of the 1800s. So why are we back gazing with wet eyes at this glowing postcard of a bygone day, that couldn't be reconstructed any more than the dinosaurs' habitat could be? Well, some people are just weepy-eyed sentimental. They love to recite at great length their feelings about the caring captains of industry they served with (goes the rhetoric). Oh, please. One cannot drive at full speed with eyes too exclusively and weepily on the rear view mirror. And here, the narrator has a perfect forlorn wistfulness to go with it. I'm concerned with these topics, as a teacher of ethics. I choose a different approach. And, large parts of this book for me are indistinguishable from Charles D. Ellis' earlier history of GS. It had a lot of this sort of tone too, with a bigger (if slightly earlier) historical sweep.
This work is by and for people with long attention spans and some knowledge of (and pretty strong motivation to stay with and learn) legal concepts. As a longtime legal scholar, I can't know what this would sound like to someone without that background. It seems clear as a bell to me, all through. Listening to this, I realize the vastness of the topic, and impossibility of fitting a fully comprehensive treatment into even this larger audiobook. But I came away with much improved knowledge of such topics as: (1) property rights in the colonies, and vis a vis the Native Americans; (2) "justice" as practiced in relation to those natives; (3) shifts in legal doctrines as new ways of business (e.g., canals, railroads, more new business entities appearing and competing, in areas formerly under older-type monopoly charters) emerged along with cities, more courts, and various judicial and other government personalities; (4) the runup to the Civil War, which receives a very detailed legal treatment, along with the status of slaves; and (4) the course of that war. The discussion of the Confederate Constitution (and much of the mentality and doctrines of the South as regards slavery) is but one example of very eye-opening contents of this book. The Dred Scott decision is taken apart in meticulous detail. Of course, some areas get shorter treatment, such as the finer details of government finance, but this book is great value for me. It's not everyone's cup of tea, though. I sure hope the author puts out the promised further volume!
This story, as the title suggests, plays out across a big canvas, with many participants. It does not conceal its general suspicions of the motives of big bankers, but the motives of self-interested big players in a political economy can profitably be viewed through such a prism. It is balanced enough not to cause me revulsion, which I feel at any crazily filered and tilted story in either direction politically. As an avid reader in this area, plenty of useful detail is to be had here. I would combine this listening with the excellent (more conservative) audiobook 'Fragile By Design,' to get a more overall balanced view. The narration is listenable if not great.
I appreciate a good plain overview of such areas as design of the the postwar (WW2) global financial world order, the role of private bankers (whose mixing into the New Deal and WW2 US financial structure is well described) and how it fit with the emerging Cold War. This book is very good at sketching the overall structures taking shape in different eras. And true to the title, we see how the various sales pitches made by presidential candidates became the actual arrangements during each of the presidencies. Certainly such personalities as Morgan's Thomas Lamont were huge influences in the governance of this country, though private actors.
Anyone wondering whether (s)he has the "minerals" (as the Brits say) to jump into the deep end of corporate M&A ought to give this little gem a listening-to. Carl Icahn as depicted here was at the same moment a sharp-elbowed, hugely exasperating, and skillful, brilliant intruder into formerly staid halls of US corporate life. He's the kind of guy who, no matter how you personally feel about him or his ways of business, is going to be here and in your face and involved in your affairs if he wants to be. And he wants to be, if his brilliant tactical multi-level chess-playing mind can see a way to make money. (I imagine he might launch into the shareholder value enhancement speech at this point, which I came to see as often correct. But only consistent with his profits.) Unlike another reviewer, I found the author's street-level east-coast accent a perfect fit here. I was surprised the author got access to Icahn himself, as the author at turns is quite critical of him. That's all for the better.
This is the first Ron Chernow book I have read. Wow, what a storyteller. I presume the reader already has an interest in the overall topic. Mr Chernow has a way of plucking out a telling little detail that sets a scene or gives a sense of a personality marvelously. And he tirelessly delivers this sort of thing across a vast canvas. He did the same with Alexander Hamilton, as I have since heard it. I hope an audio of his book "The Warburgs" is forthcoming.
I can't say any of the rosy possibilities imagined here will come true. Who can? However, This book has a fine place, if for no other reason than to make our minds more limber, and help us shake off a bit of the fatigue of fearing the worst. (Look, Britain no longer rules the waves, and its standard of living has been pretty good, in a world where it was forced to assume a less unipolar "top dog" spot in the global community.) In the biggest of all narratives of current history, as I see suggested here, we live in a world where many economies have adopted roughly some version of our way of creating wealth, and I mean by productivity and trade. A China so entwined with the USA and the rest of the globe financially and in trade, is a far better vision than the possible alternatives -- such as a Nazi-type military kleptocracy. It isn't as bad as it could be, this book cogently argues. And I need to imagine in these sorts of directions, to commit some resources to the possibility of good global upsides (not least for the USA) in this type of possible future.
All my main interests converge in this book. The authors' labors came to great fruit in a thorough, eye-opening tour of banking in several countries and centuries. I learned more about the histories of Brazil and Mexico (despite having read other books, and traveled extensively in Mexico) than I ever knew, in a few hours.
The narratives frame banking systems and their impacts on nations as the products of a "game of bank bargains" in each nation, and in each time-frame, between various interest groups. This makes enormous sense, and is a refreshing departure from partisan screeds that lazily serve up the same pre-set heroes and villains. I like the authors' approach of blending disciplined narratives showing particular nations' contexts and nuances, in easy-to-follow stories, with some telling numbers. Various institutional weaknesses are highlighted, or flawed bargains, as sources of trouble: opposing groups can be, at best, powerful checks and balances on each other, and often these balances have become too lopsided, and banking crises are sure to follow. In this light, the collapse of banking systems, currencies, and governments makes clear sense. The result of this approach: deeper knowledge of history and sharper thinking and analysis. And all this is delivered in an accessible, listenable form.
Some with a brittle partisan pre-loaded set of desired answers (on either side) may be perturbed at turns. Some on the left will be uncomfortable when a microscope is turned onto the banker-urban-populist bargains in the runup to USA's 2008 subprime credit bust. But by the time this story is detailed, we are already well briefed on a history of unstable banking bargains in US history, among various players. This made me look with a more appraising and cynical eye at the smooth cartoons of rosy all-around public benefit and skillful crisis management produced by politicians (on either side) as their self-serving draft of history, and as an apologia for their various manipulations of banking systems.
USA's set of bank bargains, and their outcomes and present state, can be compared, apples-to-apples, with Britain, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Chile, Germany, and more. (This is, however, primarily a history book, not specifically an update of very current events.) This book stands alongside any I've ever read in these various sub-fields. I agree with the likes of Niall Ferguson that finance gives key understandings of history, when done with smarts and disciplined scholarship. This book tells me more about why nations are where they are, than any other I can think of.
I have read dozens of books in this genre. Yet, here I had many "gee whiz" moments, understanding in new ways (and sometimes clearly for the first time) how many of these dots connected between personalities, groups in society, financial innovations and eras, and various world players affecting, and affected by, Wall Street. The explanations are sensible and clear, and flow sensibly across time and through these overlapping factors. Many books have picked up some segment of this, and I have heard many of these stories in a fragmented way, but these fragmented books tended to wander into details that can lose the thread of important facts and ideas, or to start and stop at arbitrary points. Half a dozen segments here could be books in themselves.
As for the narration, at first I thought it a bit on the relaxed and plodding side, but as time has passed, I have found it very listenable, and able to hold my attention.
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