more than greed


A new species of book has emerged to tell us about the financial panic and subsequent economic calamity that have befallen the United States (and much of the rest of the world). Some books zero in on a particularly dramatic episode like the spine-tingling final hours leading up to the decision to let Lehman Brothers go under. Others recount the rise or fall of some venerable banking house such as Goldman Sachs or Merrill Lynch and treat these commercial ups and downs as if they were the sagas of grand empires come and gone. Biographical variants gives us the inside dope on titans of finance, invariably men of obsidian hearts and egomaniacal will, undone by their global ambition. Yet another sub-species of this genre, of which Jeff Madrick’s Age of Greed is an example, tries to combine story-telling and profiles of the rich and infamous with a survey and analysis of the whole sorry landscape of financial wilding and how its debaucheries came to be. Melodrama and moral drama supply the oxygen for this new literature. So we have books called Age of Greed, The Greed Merchants, The Big Con, Zombie Capitalism, The Great American Stick-Up, Bad Money, The End of Wall Street, The Banksters, Griftopia. Most of these books share a story line about what happened. An excess of greed nurtured in the highest precincts of the country’s financial establishment and ignored, deliberately or negligently, by those public authorities charged with monitoring and reining in these out-sized appetites, led inexorably to the near terminal breakdown, whose after-shocks reverberate to this day.

more from Steve Fraser at Dissent here.