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No Sympathy For The Devil
on August 9, 2011
Author Nicholas Dunbar has assembled an impressive assortment of facts for this book, yet after gathering facts, writers still must weave them into a compelling narrative. The lack of a compelling narrative is this book's most serious flaw.
There are several reasons for this failure and we start with the most obvious. Any narrative, especially non fiction, is a matter of Cause and Effect. This author's point of view takes him through what he believes (mistakenly as I will show) is an adequate explanation of the causes of the Great Recession, but he never endeavors to show the effects. Without any showing of the effects of the Great Recession, the author has doomed himself to a presentation of, at best, half a story.
The reason we get none of the effects is the author's decision to tell his story from the narrow confines of the executive suite. This book has only one viewpoint: it is told from the senior management level, the millionaire managers who as a class, are not inherently sympathetic characters. Indeed, the author does a great job villanizing this class, characterizing them as gunslinger quant jocks mostly interested knowing where their next million dollar bonus is coming from. If this book has a story, it is of hedge fund managers defrauding other hedge fund managers. We know there were other victims and we can't unknow what we know. It's as though this author pretends other victims don't exist.
Every business needs customers. Without customers, there can be no business. Without customers, senior managers would have nothing to manage. This book never gets down to the customer level, the level at which the text would have been imbued with a real story. To understand the impact of the financial armeggedon that ocurred, we would have to see, for example, city council members in small Italian cities coping with the declining values of their investment portfolios, and to see how overmatched they were against the big Wall Street banks who cobbled together securities, overrated their investment benefits and unloaded their toxic trash onto the balance sheets of these unsuspecting customers.
Or, the author could have shown us how municipality after municipality in America now sends millions of taxpayer dollars to the big Wall Street banks to cancel derivitive contracts and extricate themselves from the adverse effects of declining portfolio values. All of this damage took place at the customer level, not the senior management level.
Returning to a point made earlier, the author has a short list of predictable villans, those he thinks are responsible for the financial disaster that ocurred: predatory lenders, corrupt rating agencies and asleep-at-the-switch regulators. Curiously, he exempts his own career group: financial journalists who didn't understand finance, never understood the products they were charged with reporting on; and instead of warning the public, contented themselves with suck up interviews intended to ingratiate themselves to the people whose actions they were responsible for reporting. In that sense, they became big business cheerleaders instead of financial reporters. It was a broad failure that cost the nation dearly.