178 of 190 people found the following review helpful
The last time we saw Charles Ferguson, he was beginning his remarks on the occasion of his Academy Award for "Inside Job" with these blunt words: "Forgive me, I must start by pointing out that three years after our horrific financial crisis caused by financial fraud, not a single financial executive has gone to jail, and that's wrong."
Now he's back with a book that --- big surprise --- documents the atrocities.
But that's the least of it.
The larger argument of "Predator Nation: Corporate Criminals, Political Corruption, and the Hijacking of America" is that "over the last thirty years the U.S. financial sector has become a rogue industry... Since the 1990s, its power has been sufficient to insulate bankers not only from effective regulation but even from criminal law enforcement. The financial sector is now a parasitic and destabilizing industry that constitutes a major drag on American economic growth....So one reason for writing this book is to lay out in painfully clear detail the case for criminal prosecutions."
Ferguson is far from the only writer to feel this way. I can name a dozen others --- but they are all bloggers. Ferguson, in contrast, sold a company for $100 million. Won an Academy Award. And --- this is telling --- he thinks Obama is just as much the bitch of Wall Street as Bush was. As Clinton was. As Reagan was.
Let's be clear: This is not a political book, not an election year screed teed up to help either candidate. It's a horror story: how you and I became second-class citizens in our own country, how most Americans have no idea how this happened, how very unlikely we can do much about it before Wall Street's stranglehold on Washington solidifies the dominance of an elite whose only allegiance is to its own money.
Few of us have followed this story closely. We can't. We're too busy surviving. We have, at best, a general idea of the plot: In the saga of boom and bust on Wall Street, the only people who were busted were individual investors.
So let me not bang on. Let me, instead present some of Ferguson's case in the form of a quiz. Answers at bottom. (Try not to cheat. On the other hand, considering the subject...)
1) From 2000 to the financial meltdown of 2008, what percentage of mortgages were used to finance purchases of the buyer's first home?
2) Between 2000 and 2006, how much did prices of U.S. homes increase?
3) Some believe that the subprime bubble was caused by deadbeats who scammed their way into mortgages. What percentage of people who gave fraudulent data to get subprime loans during these years had help from mortgage brokers?
4) By 2005 what percentage of all American GDP growth was housing-related?
5) In 2004 the SEC voted unanimously to a) limit leverage at investment banks to 20% b) limit leverage to 50% or c) let investment banks calculate their own leverage limits.
6) In the third quarter of 2007, when Merrill Lynch was falling apart, how often did its CEO, Stan O'Neal, play golf? a) not at all. b) once. c) 20 times.
7) Ferguson writes: "The President and senior administration officials have portrayed themselves as frustrated and hamstrung --- desirous of punishing those responsible for the crisis but unable to do so because their conduct wasn't illegal, and/or the federal government lacks sufficient power to sanction them." Ferguson finds this view a) "sad but true" b) proof that "Wall Street rules" or c) "complete horses--t."
8) In the past decade, how much has the financial services industry given to American politicians? a) $500 million b) $1 billion c) $5 billion.
9) How does the U.S. rank in broadband deployment? a) first b) twentieth c) fiftieth.
10) What does the American telecommunications industry spend more on? a) lobbying b) research & development.
11) In 2009, Britain enacted a tax on banking bonuses. At what rate? a) 15% b) 25% c) 50%.
Now look at your answers. Depressing, yes?
Okay, who's to blame? For Ferguson, the answer is: neither political party. Or, rather, both.
But there are huge differences between our political parties these days, you say.
Yes, says Ferguson, on social issues. But on economic issues --- which is what people with money seem to care about a lot more than gay marriage --- the parties are, he argues, in complete agreement:
"Both political parties have been remarkably clever and effective in concealing this new reality. In fact, the two parties have formed an innovative kind of cartel --- an arrangement I have termed America's political duopoly. Both parties lie about the fact that they have each sold out to the financial sector and the wealthy. So far both have largely gotten away with the lie, helped in part by the enormous amount of money now spent on deceptive, manipulative political advertising."
The result: an economic elite, lawless and arrogant. A bought-and-paid-for government. And a growing underclass: "There are now tens of millions of Americans whose condition is little better than many people in poor third-world nations."
It is obligatory that books with information this dark show a flash of light at the end. Ferguson does this too: "Americans are getting angry, and even when they're misguided or poorly informed, people have a deep, visceral sense that they're being screwed."
Fine. We're getting screwed and we know it. So what?
Now, Ferguson says, we try to save our democracy. We invest in education. We "bring the financial sector under control." We limit the impact of money on elections. We reform the tax system. We consider broadband as "infrastructure" and build it out.
Show of hands: How many think this can happen?
1) Fewer than 10%. Many more mortgages were taken out to buy a second home, refinance a prior mortgage or extract equity out of a home.
2) According to the U.S. National Home Price Index, home prices doubled --- the largest, fastest increase in history.
5) c) The banks could set their own limits.
6). c) He played golf 20 times.
7. c) "complete horses--t."
8) c) $5 billion.
9) b) twentieth.
10) a) lobbying.
11) c) 50%.
93 of 100 people found the following review helpful
on May 24, 2012
This book has a little discussed aspect that is very important. The author is not afraid to bring into focus that most of our institutions have been taken over by the criminal class. This is a cultural issue that is not addressed by most other books on the great recession. I believe it is a very big deal to finally discuss the fact that today's business leaders are being paid massive, obscene salaries to game the system through criminal behavior instead of trying to compete on a level playing field. It is also useful in that it discusses how deep the infiltration is, in that it includes academia. Our business schools are becoming as corrupt as the CEO's. Be prepared for some shocking findings in this book and have the antacids ready.
68 of 74 people found the following review helpful
on May 27, 2012
I have read many of the recently published books on the financial crises over the past few years in an effort to better understand what happened. This book is by far the best that I have read to date. It details not only what happened and how the crisis was created but also who was behind it and how they benefited. The most interesting chapters discuss the many laws that were broken by the large financial institutions and complete absence of prosecution by any law enforcement agency in the US.
35 of 38 people found the following review helpful
on May 29, 2012
Ferguson has an unambiguous purpose in this book. Namely, to document that the financial sector in the United States has become criminalized by perverse incentives of financial executives and for financial companies more generally. The governance of the industry is now oligarchic and the cultural of the industry is scandalous and promotes impropriety. In this sense it is a "who done it" story more than it is "how it was done" (Mark Zandi's Financial Shock (Updated Edition), (Paperback): Global Panic and Government Bailouts--How We Got Here and What Must Be Done to Fix It remains the best single short source for the specific definitions and details of the financial collapse [see my amazon review]; the best books on explaining the finanical collapse from a more theoretical perspective are Nouriel Roubini's Crisis Economics: A Crash Course in the Future of Finance, Charles Morris' The Two Trillion Dollar Meltdown: Easy Money, High Rollers, and the Great Credit Crash, and Simon Johnson's 13 Bankers: The Wall Street Takeover and the Next Financial Meltdown (Vintage). Foster and Magdoff impressively anticipate the financial collapse in their The Great Financial Crisis: Causes and Consequences.
Ferguson's political warning is that the perverse incentives of financial executives and their agents have not been adequately changed, and the Obama administration has accomplished next to nothing towards (pp. 300 - 8) changing incentives and rigorous regulation. Compounding the national economic problems is, according to Ferguson, that both political parties are complacent _and_ participatory in the presence and dominance of the financial oligarchy.
The book has ten chapters. The first five chapters rehearse the financial crisis of 2007-8 by means of the actions and behaviors of the primary banks, their executives and agents. Ferguson argues that the financial bubble, created by the innovation of various financial investment vehicles (CDOs, CDSs etc.), was no mistake or accident, but systematic fraud and a scandalous corporate culture engrained in American finance. This story is now well known, and somewhat popularized, in part thanks to Ferguson's documentary film, Inside Job, and several good books such as Matt Taibbi's Griftopia: A Story of Bankers, Politicians, and the Most Audacious Power Grab in American History and Michael Lewis's The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine.
Ferguson's book is another effort in the tradition to more or less popularize the shenanigans of the financial industry. This is very important political activity, because unless American citizens demand change, no politician can gain the political momentum to execute the institutional change that is needed to avoid another financial collapse. Ferguson's book has particular advantages over the other popularizers. Over Taibbi, Ferguson has a far greater grasp of finance, economics and politics; and over Lewis, Ferguson understands that many bankers saw the collapse coming. The crisis was not an historical accident.
Ferguson's main contribution comes from his last five chapters. Chapter six is an argument for prosecution of the criminal activity of the employees of financial services firms. Chapter seven is an argument that the financial sector has functioned more as a "parasitic industry" than it has been agents of intermediation to generate stable economic growth. Ferguson here has a very strong point, and very much shared by James K. Galbraith (see below) in his The Predator State: How Conservatives Abandoned the Free Market and Why Liberals Should Too.
Chapter eight draws out the conflict of interest between academics and their various posts and positions with government and the financial industry. Academics are not necessarily objective analyzers, but well compensated participates. Earlier this year there was an important paper published, "Dangerous interconnectedness: economists' conflict of interest, ideology and financial crisis" in _Cambridge Journal of Economics_ authored by Jessica Carrick-Hagenbarth and Gerald Epstein, that fully supports Ferguson's warning (available online).
Chapter nine attempts to document the symbiotic relationship between the financial industry and the political system (a cartel-like system dominated by two mutually supported parties with regard to the lack of adequate regulation of the financial industry). Finally, chapter ten is a very hastily written "What Should Be Done?" Here Ferguson argues we need to strengthen American education and the nation's infrastructure, along with reforming the tax system, strengthen antitrust policy, reform and better regulate finance, and control the impact of money on American politics. Well, we can embrace all these, but if Ferguson's argument is correct in first nine chapters, we also know why this is not likely to happen. Ferguson's statement here needed to be far stronger! Organization of grassroot movements and democratic citizen pressure that can be put on both the financial industry and politicians (already started by the Tea Partiers and Occupiers).
There is a strong affinity between Ferguson's book and James K. Galbraith book The Predator State: How Conservatives Abandoned the Free Market and Why Liberals Should Too. It is quite curious that Ferguson fails to cite Galbraith. Galbraith's book is far stronger on why free-market ideology came to dominate the ideas of academics and American politics. Galbraith is also far superior on the reasons why the economics polices of the last 40 years have failed and led to predation as an economic and political phenomena. Ferguson however far better documents the specifics of the predation, especially within the financial industry (chapters 2 - 5), it relation to academia (chapter 8), _and_ within the political system (chapter 9).
This book deserves a wide audience and serious scrutiny.
24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
By now, just about everyone in the First, Second (the former states in the "socialist" ambit) and Third World is fully aware of the dire implications and catastrophic effects of the greatest economic debacle to strike since the Great Depression. This event, call it, "Great Depression-II: The Sequel" (GD2) has been accompanied by declining employment, gross disparities in income and accrued wealth, social polarization, ideological gridlock in government and mainstream acceptance of extremist ideas. Interesting times, indeed.
One of the few non-1% segments of American society that has clearly benefited from GD2 is the pundit class. This largely self-anointed group has spawned an entire shelf-full of books; filled the internet and print media with thousands of articles: some have made films. One such is Charles Ferguson, who won an Academy Award for his documentary "Inside Job". He follows that critically-acclaimed work with "Predator Nation", the finest and most incendiary, incisive, cogently argued work so far written on GD2. It is a compelling indictment of the entire rotting edifice. It's Ferguson's rage against the machine.
So, with legions of books and articles to choose from, why this one? In terms of trenchant and cogently constructed arguments; mordant but not brazen barbs; depth of coverage; ability to present, synthesize and contextualize reams of potentially tedious data; unparalleled ability to organize and explain; writer of rousing indictments against the morally bankrupt political "duopoly" (Republicans and Democrats) ranging from Carter through Clinton; Reagen; Bush through Obama; bravura depictions of politicians groveling before the wealth and power of the Masters of the Universe: Lords of Finance dispensing imbecile platitudes, composing dismissive and humiliating homilies about "job creators" and "rugged individualism; it's enough to induce protracted bouts of nausea and enduring waves of fear about the future of the US. In short, you will simply not find a better history and analysis of events to date than this one.
One of the most aggravating aspects of GD2 was that it was predicted years beforehand. Roubini, Krugman, Rajan, Stiglitz, Cohan and many more divined the causes and the consequences. These are not marginal characters but their warnings, prescient as they were were disregarded, denigrated and dismissed. Harbingers of disaster (S & L crisis; Dot-Com Bubble to name but two of them) abounded. Why were these authorities ignored? The simple answer: ideology and self-interest. Powerful and wealthy individuals set the standard. They and their cohort were best served by deregulation, repeal of Glass-Steagall, emasculation of the SEC, Citizens United and a plethora of others, all neatly cataloged and carefully explained by Ferguson. He even includes a glossary of financial arcana!
Ferguson's criticisms are lacerating but are deserved. Every contention is buttressed with a wealth of facts. To provide context, he provides requisite historical material. For instance, he notes that the penchant for deregulation appeared initially in the Jimmy Carter era, but it was launched by Reagan, sanctified by Bill Clinton and embraced by Obama: "It was the Clinton administration that first signaled, decisively, that it was suspending enforcement of the law when it came to the financial sector and even to individuals with substantial finical assets. In addition to supporting legislation - such as repeal of Glass-Steagall - that permitted previously illegal activities, the administration stopped enforcing laws that existed." Unafraid to call a lie a lie, Ferguson notes, "The Obama administration has rationalized its failure to prosecute anyone (literally, anyone at all) for bubble-related crimes by saying that while much of Wall Street's behavior was unwise or unethical, it wasn't illegal...the president and senior administration officials have portrayed themselves as frustrated and hamstrung - desirous of punishing those responsible for the crisis, but unable to do so because their conduct wasn't illegal and/or the federal government lacks sufficient power to sanction them. With apologies for my vulgarity, this is complete (expunged by Amazon censors)." Obviously and most aggravatingly, the 1% prevailed. Plenty of irrefutable data is mustered to prove that contention that organized criminal activity is and was ubiquitous. Risk was socialized; profit was private. Only the suckers were pursued whilst the big fish returned to their spawning grounds in The Hamptons, coastal Maine and upscale enclaves in various trendy cities in the US and elsewhere.
The book delves into particulars on the entire gamut of causes and the incredibly diverse and uniformly inimical effects. One alarming fact, I've not seen described elsewhere, is the patent conflict of interest between academic economists and their corporate paymasters. The exchange between Mishkin and Ferguson and R. Glenn Hubbard and Ferguson are not to be missed. The corrosive effects of corporate money is so pervasive that, "...put yourself in the shoes, once again, of someone young and honest, particularly someone who wants to do research on, say, the financial crisis....you would face a sobering tableau. Who would supervise your PhD thesis, judge your grant applications, consider whether to give you tenure, referee the articles you submit to journals? Answer: people who make millions of dollars defending the financial sector. In contrast, who is going to pay you hundreds of thousands of dollars per year to sit on their board of directors, testify in Congress on their behalf, advocate their interest in antitrust cases, appear for them before regulators? Nobody, is the answer."
Ferguson concludes by asking, "What is to be done?" about the matter as did Nikolai Chernyshevsky in 1863, Tolstoy in 1883 and Lenin in 1902 as the system groaned under the baleful influence of the parasitical royals. As with Tsarist Russia, the US public is mired in bovine torpor, befuddled by "culture wars" distractors and cognitively trapped by eons of "greatest nation" propaganda. Yet, several practical prescriptions are succinctly stated. The author, given that the book was published in an election year also asks, Who to vote for: "...I will close by saying that while President Obama has failed his country in major ways, he is the least of the available evils. So, yes, I recommend that you hold your nose and vote for him, as I will. But the very next day, I hope that you start thinking about how to replace him and the entire system that produced him." It's this sense of outrage and betrayal that is galvanizing both the author and (to a much smaller extent) the general public.
While it's difficult to predict the future, the turmoil the US financial crisis precipitated in the EU coupled with the sick domestic economy and shocking levels of unemployment all portend that Obama is a "one term wonder". For those who don't abide the "lesser of two evils" argument recognizing it for the cop-out that it is (and Ferguson implicitly acknowledges it as such), the entire rotten edifice seems to be beyond salvation. Do you think there are any anodyne solutions? Think again: "...this is the first time that America has faced a combination of structural political corruption, rising inequality and long term economic decline. And so far, American politics has mostly been producing decisions that make things worse, not better - and are economically and politically unsustainable." If you were being raped, as we are by The Machine, would you insist upon gradual withdrawal?
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on June 9, 2012
I've read three or four financial crisis books including the FCIC report (well worth reading and can be downloaded free from the FDIC website) and I didn't expect to find much new in this book. But it was featured and recommended in a segment on Viewpoint with Eliot Spitzer on Current TV and since he knows a lot about financial sector crime and misbehaviour being one of the few who tried to prosecute it, I bought the book. This is an extremely well researched piece of work and is far more comprehensive than any individual book I've read about the financial crisis. The widespread sheer criminality and amorality of large numbers of people has been exposed to an even higher degree then I was already aware of. The lack of will of the government to put a stop to any of this thereby encouraging bad behaviour painstakingly presented. The corrosive effect not just on American society but on American ideals and the idea of America is thoroughly depicted. Yet the author has hope that a day will come that the American people won't take if any more. But what if by that time we are too demoralized to do anything about it?
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on July 4, 2012
I have read 47 books since the financial crisis about our banks and Wall Street, and none exposes the criminal activity like this one. Ferguson I am sure is on Wall Street's black list. The reason much of the information exposed in this book is not main stream news is because those individuals will be destroyed both financially and politically. Just ask Eliot Spitzer, the ex-NY attorney general, who exposed fraud on Wall Street. After reading this book you will be outraged at the nefarious, egregious, gangster, racketeer-like activity of Wall Street banks. You will not be able to come up with enough "dirty" words to describe your outrage.
For example, JPMorganChase paid $2.2 billion with its involvement with Enron, paid $88.3 million for allowing wire transfers to countries where the US established embargos. Paid $228 million for fraudulent bidding practices involving 93 municipalities and were the bank for Madoff and MF Global. This is a great track record for a bank that is still in business and its head is thought of as some genius. Talk about great marketing of a myth.
But to me, the most gangster-like was, Wachovia at the time, who paid "ONLY" $150 million to launder $420 "BILLION" of Mexican Drug Cartel money. Imagine one of our banks involved in this and nobody goes to jail, but we have all the fuse about illegals coming across the border and people using marijuana, who end up in jail.
If you care about this country, read this book. It's time for justice by spreading this information by word of mouth. Because if something does not change the idea of the American Dream will only be a myth, if the big boys continue to steal and deceive to make a living.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on June 9, 2012
As a fan of "Inside Job" I was eager to read Predator Nation, which minces no words in designating the financial industry as "criminal" abetted by the political establishment, whether Republican or Democrat. The other reviews here lay out what this book accomplishes, to which I would only underscore the powerful and no-holds-barred approach of Ferguson to establishing responsibility and labeling it "criminal" as well as "predatory."
Beyond critique of Wall Street and the political "duopoly," the book widely supports the thesis that something is terribly wrong in America, a cultural malaise rooted in economic thievery and imbalance empowering the wealthy, and rendering today's America into the equivalent of what we used to call "a banana republic." Charles Ferguson pulls no punches in laying out his case here.
But, as another review has pointed out, the ending is disappointing. Charles has laid into Obama as part of the "duopoly" governing America, meaning diverging only on fractious social issues but essentially united in matters of finance and government, including war. At one point he labels Obama's weak commentary on controlling Wall Street "horse [manure]" and then at another point says "he [Obama] screwed us." In his concluding five page chapter which has an "oh, well" feel to it he tells us "hold your nose and vote for him [Obama], as I will."
With this and various commentaries we seem to be very long on laying out damages and ascribing responsibility, but have almost nothing to say on what to do other than repair to the lounge on the Titanic and have another whiskey, hoping somebody will come along with a bright idea or two at some point. If more energy were put into finding answers, as with ascribing blame, maybe we could be more hopeful.
31 of 38 people found the following review helpful
on May 22, 2012
Just as "Inside Job" essentially mirrored coverage of the period and events by, for instance, CNBC and especially Frontline's 3 different treatments, this book comes along on the heels of several works that examined the same set of problems linked to American corporations and banks that enjoy enormous special interest status.
So, if, for instance, you already have Hacker & Pierson's "Winner Take All Politics", you probably don't need this book, unless you - like me - have the nasty habit of accumulating
plural treatments of important topics.
That said, it's a very good read and certainly a good place to start.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on May 29, 2012
Subtitled `Corporate Criminals, Political Corruption, and the Hijacking of America', this book by Charles H. Ferguson (director of the documentary `Inside Job') is a compendium of much of the information revealed in numerous previous books on the state of the financial industry in America.
Ferguson's more specific take on the subject concentrates on the notion that the culpability of the financial industry in the economic collapse of 2008, as well as the decline of the middle class and the escalation of dramatic economic inequity, rises to the level of criminality. Ferguson points out numerous specific incidents in which, were it not for the failure of the Justice Department (and the influence of billions of dollars of lobbying, on the part of the industry), many industry professionals, CEO's, and managers would have, and should have, been prosecuted criminally for their behavior. Instead, the few civil prosecutions which did occur resulted in fines which were well below the level of profits made as a consequence of the behaviors... and in most cases, insurance covered the cost of the fines, allowing the perpetrators to avoid not only imprisonment, but any loss of their ill-gotten gains.
Ferguson traces the seeds for the widespread amorality of the financial industry back to the era of deregulation, beginning in 1980, and covers the deregulation of the S&L industry, which led to massive criminality, most notably, Charles Keating; although charged with fraud in the 1970's, he was nonetheless permitted to take over a relatively healthy S&L in 1984. His eventual frauds while operating the S&L made him millions, and he spent $300K in campaign contributions to five senators (the infamous `Keating Five') in order to head off SEC investigations... although the effort eventually failed, and Keating ended up in prison. The cost to the taxpayers, for the Keating scandal alone, was $1B, and the entire set of numerous S&L fraud prosecutions eventually cost the taxpayers $100 Billion. Both individuals as well as complicit accounting firms paid big fines... but nowhere near the profits they made in committing the frauds, and few were criminally charged or imprisoned.
From there, Ferguson traces the synchronicity of both the deregulation, as well as the rising amorality of financial institutions, aided and abetted by weak and underfunded regulators, massive lobbying, campaign contributions, and other forms of corrupt influence, enabling the industry to act with increasing irresponsibility... leading up to the collapse of the housing market (a mere symptom of the more broadly applicable overleveraging), and the Recession starting in 2008.
Ferguson's book is decidedly apolitical; he skewers Reagan, both Bush presidents, Clinton, and even Obama, with similar ferocity, albeit with different emphasis. His main thesis concentrates on the amoral behavior of the industry itself, coupled with the shortsighted deregulation, as well as the inability and/or unwillingness of the regulators and Justice Department to gain control of the runaway train.
I highly recommend this book, although I give it only 4 out of 5 stars, simply because there really isn't all that much new information revealed in it. However, it is a superb compendium of information provided in preceding books, and it ties the information together in an informative `big picture' way.