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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine » User review

There's no accountability left in financial institutions...

  • Oct 16, 2010
My innocence and belief in the foundations of free-market capitalism has slowly eroded over the last decade, starting with the implosion of Enron (where I worked) to the financial crisis we currently find ourselves in. Michael Lewis's book The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine continues that trend and shaved a few more layers off of my trust of government and corporations, specifically financial institutions. Bottom line... greed is rampant, and there is no accountability left out there.

Lewis chronicles the meltdown of the sub-prime mortgage market, and subsequently the entire global financial system, through the eyes and stories of a small number of individuals who were willing to say the emperor had no clothes. They were convinced that the loan practices of mortgage lenders were seriously flawed, and that the availability of large adjustable mortgages with low teaser rates to people who couldn't afford them would cause high levels of default when the teaser rates expired. Furthermore, these loans were being packaged and sold to others who would assume the risk, so there was no accountability in making sure the loan was sound, as the lender would not be on the hook over the life of the loan. These loan bonds were then repackaged again into other "investment" instruments that were again bought and sold. The complexity and opacity of the packages led the rating agencies to assign high ratings to instruments that were nothing more than junk. You could think of it as a large Ponzi scheme, where everything worked so long as housing prices continued to increase. But when prices went down, everything collapsed in spectacular fashion.

The people that Lewis follows established a way that they could short the mortgage bonds, something that hadn't been possible before. They were lone (and obnoxious) voices in the wilderness, as no one could believe that these few individuals could see something that eluded the view of all the huge financial firms. But when everything collapsed in September of 2008, they made *huge* profits while the multi-billion dollar financial firms lost tens of billions (and some went bankrupt). But even having been proved right, they each suffered their own emotional breakdown and turmoil. The magnitude of the collapse amazed even them, and left them wondering if there was any safe place left for their own money. In their cases, money definitely didn't buy happiness.

The Big Short does a good job of chronicling the greed and ignorance of the finance industry, where profits were everything, and complete understanding of risks was non-existent. I found it amazing that individuals who brought down companies single-handedly (one trader lost 9 *billion* dollars completely on his own) were still able to leave or resign with millions in their pockets. Our government bailed out private firms and shifted their losses to us, the American taxpayer, because these firms had sabotaged the financial stability of the nation through their obsession with profits. And ultimately, no one is really accountable, as those who had to "resign" did so with millions in payouts.

As with all books that look back like this, the knowledge of the outcome allows the story to be told in such a way that the eventual end seems predetermined to happen. At the time, any single decision made along the way could have turned out differently and this specific story would have never been told and experienced. Even so, Lewis weaves a compelling narrative of what *did* happen, and one can't help but be depressed at some level knowing that these lessons will soon be forgotten, new people will come up with new schemes driven by greed, and we'll repeat the cycle once again...

Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed

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Michael Lewis is one of the most gifted and entertaining writers today - anyone who has read his reputation-forming Liar's Poker will know this (if you haven't, and you aspire to a career in finance, you should), but his subsequent offerings, particularly the singularly brilliant Moneyball have also been outstanding. He distinguishes himself from his peers firstly by his thorough insider's understanding of how, when and why finance works (and by extension how, when and why it doesn't) but also a …
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About this book


Although Lewis is perhaps best known for his sports-related nonfiction (includingThe Blind Side), his first book was the autobiographicalLiar's Poker, in which he chronicled his disillusionment as a young gun on Wall Street in the greed is good 1980s. He returns to his financial roots to excavate the crisis of 2007–2008, employing his trademark technique of casting a microcosmic lens on the personal histories of several Wall Street outsiders who were betting against the grain—to shed light on the macrocosmic tale of greed and fear. Although Lewis reads the book's introduction, narration duties are assumed by Jesse Boggs, a veteran narrator of business titles (including Lewis's own 2008 bookPanic!). Boggs's rich baritone is well suited to the task and trips lightly through a maze of financial jargon (CDOs, derivatives, mid-prime lending) and a dizzying cast of characters. Lewis returns on the final disc for a 10-minute interview about the crisis's aftermath, including a savvy assessment of the wisdom of the financial bailout and where-are-they-now updates on the book's various heroes and villains.A Norton hardcover. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.--This text refers to theAudio CDedition.


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ISBN-10: 0393072231
ISBN-13: 978-0393072235
Author: Michael Lewis
Genre: Business & Investing
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
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