Monday, 26 April 2010

That Clinking Clanking Sound - Liar's Poker by Michael Lewis

I'm a leftie. A European leftie, which in US terms probably translates as 'commie scum'. On the polotical compass site I come out left and south of Gandhi, comrade. So I'm pretty much implacably opposed to the philosophy that's ruled economic policy in the US and the UK since 1979. Free market philosophy? Utter bollocks, that's like leaving a garden and hoping the lawn will mow itself, and the flowers will self-trim nicely. It doesn't happen, the strongest and most cunning plants (yeah, there's triffids in this analogy...) will overwhelm the lesser ones, sucking all the goodness from the soil and leaving you with an ugly, tangled mess that might take years to sort. Me personally, I blame the philosophy and those who implemented it, you can feel free to blame who you want, but it did crash rather spectacularly in 2008. And if you want an insight into the culture which birthed the ugliest of economic messes, you can simply go back to this 21 year old book. It's frightening that a book detailing the failings of Wall Street, detailing the background to the last great economic crash, demonstrates how little really changed in nearly 20 years. And it does it in a simple way that most books about economics seem incapable of, either by inclination or inability to see outside a limited worldview.

Of course, that may just be the autobiographical nature of the book, but then it's a rarity in that it's an autobiography tinged with self-awareness and humility. Autobiography requires something of an ego, but I'd imagine those qualities are fairly unique when it comes to books about Wall Street. Lewis demonstrates how easy it is to get sucked into the Wall Street mentality when young, and how hard it is to get out of it. It's not so much swimming with sharks as trying not to get eaten in a sea full of them.

Liar's Poker shares Moneyball's great strength, being able to convey what may be complex subjects to relative laymen in clear terms without ever talking down to the reader. More than that, he brings what could be dry, dull subjects to life and renders them fascinating.

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