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13 Bankers: The Wall Street Takeover and the Next Financial Meltdown [Hardcover]

Simon Johnson , James Kwak
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (107 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 30, 2010
Even after the ruinous financial crisis of 2008, America is still beset by the depredations of an oligarchy that is now bigger, more profitable, and more resistant to regulation than ever. Anchored by six megabanks—Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley—which together control assets amounting, astonishingly, to more than 60 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, these financial institutions (now more emphatically “too big to fail”) continue to hold the global economy hostage, threatening yet another financial meltdown with their excessive risk-taking and toxic “business as usual” practices. How did this come to be—and what is to be done? These are the central concerns of 13 Bankers, a brilliant, historically informed account of our troubled political economy.
In 13 Bankers, Simon Johnson—one of the most prominent and frequently cited economists in America (former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund, Professor of Entrepreneurship at MIT, and author of the controversial “The Quiet Coup” in The Atlantic)—and James Kwak give a wide-ranging, meticulous, and bracing account of recent U.S. financial history within the context of previous showdowns between American democracy and Big Finance: from Thomas Jefferson to Andrew Jackson, from Theodore Roosevelt to Franklin Delano Roosevelt. They convincingly show why our future is imperiled by the ideology of finance (finance is good, unregulated finance is better, unfettered finance run amok is best) and by Wall Street’s political control of government policy pertaining to it.
As the authors insist, the choice that America faces is stark: whether Washington will accede to the vested interests of an unbridled financial sector that runs up profits in good years and dumps its losses on taxpayers in lean years, or reform through stringent regulation the banking system as first and foremost an engine of economic growth. To restore health and balance to our economy, Johnson and Kwak make a radical yet feasible and focused proposal: reconfigure the megabanks to be “small enough to fail.”
Lucid, authoritative, crucial for its timeliness, 13 Bankers is certain to be one of the most discussed and debated books of 2010.

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Though this blistering book identifies many causes of the recent financial crisis, from housing policy to minimum capital requirements for banks, the authors lay ultimate blame on a dominant deregulatory ideology and Wall Street's corresponding political influence. Johnson, professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and Kwak, a former consultant for McKinsey, follow American finance's rocky road from the debate between Jefferson and Hamilton over the first Bank of the United States through frequent friction between Big Finance and democracy to the Obama administration's responses to the crises. The authors take a highly critical stance toward recent palliative measures, arguing that nationalization of the banks would have been preferable to the bailouts, which have allowed the banks to further consolidate power and resources. Given the swelling size of the six megabanks, the authors make a persuasive case that the financial system cannot be secure until those banks that are too big to fail are somehow broken up. This intelligent, nuanced book might be too technical for general-interest readers, but it synthesizes a significant amount of research while advancing a coherent and compelling point of view. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Johnson and Kwak are the coauthors of The Baseline Scenario, a leading economic blog that pulls no punches when criticizing current economic policy. Just when you thought we were past the worst of the financial crisis, they are here to tell us that another potentially worse meltdown looms ahead in the future, due to the fact that nothing has really changed in the way large financial institutions do business. After the failures of banks like IndyMac, WaMu, and Wachovia, there are now just a handful of banks left that control not only all the money but also the political influence to prevent the kind of reform that is needed to rein in the industry from indulging in the risk-taking practices that got us in trouble in the first place. The government has already set the precedent that these financial institutions are “too big to fail,” thus shifting all the risk onto the American taxpayer if and when the next financial crisis occurs. The authors propose enacting strong legislation that will effectively reduce the size and scope of our national banks and make them “small enough to fail.” --David Siegfried

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; 1st edition (March 30, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307379051
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307379054
  • Product Dimensions: 9.8 x 6.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (107 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #217,456 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
257 of 270 people found the following review helpful
The desire to analyze the current economic downturn has prompted a deluge of books, most focusing on how to address present and future economic ills and some narrowly focused on individual players and institutions that played a key role in the financial collapse, while others explained the events that led us to this place. "13 Bankers" explains how we got here and more importantly comes up with ideas to prevent a recurrence in the future far more concisely than many others I've read. I could be easy to dismiss Johnson and Kwak's observations as being pessimistic, as makes a very damning indictment of the banking and financial sectors in their past and present conditions and a rather trenchant argument that if these problem are not addressed we likely face another imminent meltdown. The authors give readers a quick concise history of finance and banking in the United States, something that many Americans are woefully unaware of, that points out how banks and financial institutions came to garner so much power over the economy. While efforts have been made to regulate them to varying degrees those regulations have often proven ineffective or are too often enacted AFTER financial catastrophes, much our current situation. The authors rather persuasively argue that the "too big to fail" model and the bailouts of 2008 and 2009 were misguided, arguing that nationalization would have been the better route to go. They continue the argument that the forced mergers, such as Merrill Lynch and Bank of America, were mistakes and instead had created institutions that are now truly to big to fail. In some respects it almost sounds like a Teddy Roosevelt-era trust buster and his argument that these large institutions need to be broken up to diffuse their power certainly makes sense. Read more ›
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115 of 122 people found the following review helpful
13 Bankers takes us through he painful history of the financial crisis that brought us where we are today and that now makes it so hard to move forward. Simon and Kwak argue that absent reform, another bailout - a more costly bailout with even greater global consequences, millions of jobs lost, and a ruinous impact on our government budget - is unavoidable.

Many Americans apparently do not yet understand how much influence financial institutions have in Washington, DC. Banks used to answer to Washington and were once held accountable for their actions. That is no longer is the case. We have never had such a concentrated banking system in the United States and it's dangerous that so much of our financial future is wrapped up in the big banks.

But the book is not pessimistic. Simon and Kwak offer instances from our history when elected representatives took on concentrated financial power. Each time, most Americans initially did not grasp how the system works, and this proved a major obstacle to reform. But the political leadership was able to explain what needed to be done, and to persuade average Americans that the nature of power in and around the financial sector had become so great and so distorted that something major had to be done.

The book is not anti-finance, but it is very much against the way our biggest banks operate today. The book describes exactly what needs to be done so that what happened in 2008-09 will never be allowed to happen again. Let's hope the prescription works.
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292 of 325 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Useful, but not groundbreaking or controversial April 13, 2010
I'm jumping in here more to vote among the opinions already expressed than to say anything new. I mostly agree with Bruce Lasker. The book is a good straightforward history of how we got to this point in American banking, but is neither deep in its analysis nor strong in its recommendations. If the reviews had been split on this issue I wouldn't have bothered, but since its 9 to 1 against Mr. Lasker, I think it's worth making it 9 to 2.

The opinion in this book is all expressed through word choice. When the authors don't like an increase in lending it is "an orgy of lending." When they do, "banks responded with capital to support growth." People they disagree with "rant," while people they like "point out" or even "prove." But there's never any analysis to back up these opinions, they're painted onto what is basically a factual history. I happen to agree with more than half of their views, but if I didn't, I wouldn't have been convinced by this book. It doesn't help that everything is based on secondary sources, from which the authors take what they like and nothing else.

On the other hand, if you want a factual history, and either agree with the authors or are willing to ignore loaded words, this is an excellent choice. It's well-written, witty, up-to-the-minute and accurate. The opinions are never intrusive, and never foolish. They feel concentrations of banking power are dangerous, which is pretty reasonable, but they ignore the problems caused by the local corruption that grew up in its place. You learn about Jefferson, Madison and Jackson's principled objection to national banking, you won't learn about politicians anxious to create local bank monopolies for their friends and associates, restraining competition in order to maximize profit and control local economies.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Money and power will corrupt our country.
Money has power to tell the government what to do. There will not be any regulations on banking unless the bankers say so. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Janine Kredell, retired teacher
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read
The thing that sets this book apart from so many of the others explaining the financial crisis, this one takes a total non-partisan view of the problems, who's to blame, and the... Read more
Published 5 months ago by LD
4.0 out of 5 stars excellent writing that provides an easy to understand explanation of...
excellent writing that provides an easy to understand explanation of what lead up to the Great Recession - unfortunately it appears that history will repeat itself, the unknown is... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Stephen Goodman
5.0 out of 5 stars Awesome
Exceptional coverage of a complex issue. The writing style is clear,concise and informative. As good as it gets in detailing Financial Engineering and its impact on financial... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Arthur P. Sotak
1.0 out of 5 stars terrible book aimed to misinform
over simplification of the financial crisis. Erroneous argument, slandering the derivative market with no grounds. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Christine
5.0 out of 5 stars Depressing Accurate Analysis of What Happened
I have read the book three times. It is now almost worn out from loaning it to my friends. This is a non-partisan, well researched explanation of the recent banking crisis.
Published 9 months ago by James N. Mayfield
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the Best on The Bust
This is one of the best books about the financial crisis of 2008 that I have read, and I've read a lot. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Anne Mills
3.0 out of 5 stars Pretty naive about the political power of banks!
I found it a pretty interesting read but awfully naive about such figures as FDR and his so called crusade against banks and Teddy Roosevelt's JPMorgan invented Progressive party... Read more
Published 13 months ago by AeroEngineer
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read for your own financial health
This book explains why governments bailed out the financial institutions that nearly destroyed the world financial system. Too big to fail was not the main reason. Read more
Published 14 months ago by F. Wong
2.0 out of 5 stars Missing the 2nd half?
Decent review of wall street deregulation over the past thirty years, from Reagan's "government is the problem" to passage of the Dodd-Frank finance bill under Obama/Geithner. Read more
Published 14 months ago by SivBum
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Kindle price outrageous
Well it is unfortunately obvious why the Kindle prices are hardly different than a paper copy of the book...they sold us a great product, the Kindle, and now they have us in a difficult postion...pay the prices or not...we are a captive audience. So sad...I love the Kindle but have been telling... Read More
Apr 13, 2010 by Kathie |  See all 10 posts
why are all the new kindle free books "currently unavailable"?
I THINK, although I am not absolutely positive, that the books are only free for a limited time or for a limited number of books. Once that quantity is reached or the free period is over, that free version is unavailable. I, too, have wondered why they take so long to make it available again.
Apr 15, 2010 by K. Pattie |  See all 2 posts
This book is over priced Be the first to reply
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