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The Looting of America: How Wall Street's Game of Fantasy Finance Destroyed Our Jobs, Pensions, and Prosperity—and What We Can Do about It Paperback – June 2, 2009


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Chelsea Green Publishing (June 2, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1603582053
  • ISBN-13: 978-1603582056
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.6 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (56 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #594,760 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Deeming himself the "Main Streeter" to explain the economic crisis to average Americans, author and researcher Leopold (The Men Who Hated Work and Loved Labor) does a cagey job explaining credit derivative obligations (CDOs), and their role in the financial meltdown, in populist terms. Unfortunately, his folksy presentation is grating at best and condescending at worst; in one egregious example, his analogy between "fantasy finance" and "fantasy football" is not just patronizing, but obscures his meaning. Still, his astute arguments make it clear that the blame earned by Wall Street and (to some degree) the government has been displaced onto ordinary Americans. Yet, he proves just as partisan as his opponents in painting free market crusaders as remorseless villains. Hamhanded solutions (described in terms of how much Wall Street will dislike them) read like a wish list for the Democratic party: financial disaster insurance, wage caps for CEOs, more unionizing, increasing real wages and nationalizing student loans among them. Whether any of these solutions are politically or economically feasible gets cursory attention. A standard muckraking explication of America's financial hole, this report should resonate with those already on Leopold's side.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

Library Journal-
Leopold (founding director, Labor Inst. & Public Health Inst.; The Man Who Hated Work and Loved Labor) spends much of this text providing an excellent "lemonade stand" explanation of the history and mechanics of the various mortgage-related securities and their derivatives that have come under scrutiny as a result of the current financial crisis. Many readers will find the simplicity of this exercise a welcome parry to the mass media refrain that only the most highly trained Wall Street professionals can comprehend these financial instruments. The Whitefish Bay, WI, school board's foray into these unregulated markets supplies Leopold with a suitably disastrous example of how such securities and derivatives multiplied exponentially the losses resulting from the mortgage default surge that began in 2007. Verdict Leopold uses the Whitefish Bay study to good effect. Although he doesn't fulfill the promise of the subtitle in any special way, his clear and basic explanations will at least help readers understand the financial jargon bandied about so readily over the last couple of years.



"I loved this book. A worms'-eye dissection of the Wall Street crisis from a very sharp and very knowledgeable labor economist. Here's hoping that before the Washington consensus gets set in stone, policymakers will read it and reflect on the havoc the masters of the universe have wreaked on ordinary people."--Charles Morris, author of The Trillion Dollar Meltdown: Easy Money, High Rollers, and the Great Credit Crash and Money, Greed, and Risk: Why Financial Crises and Crashes Happen



"Les Leopold tells the story of our economic collapse so clearly, so broadly, so stylishly I didn't get lost; in fact, to my great surprise, I kept going and going like Hansel and Gretel through the thick forest of mortgage finance, credit swaps, bubbles and bailouts. The Looting of America is a guided tour for people who wonder if the ups and downs of a free market are inevitable, or if we can't make a few changes for a smoother ride."--Robert Krulwich, NPR Science Correspondent and co-host of Radio Lab



"Les Leopold has given an entertaining account of the growth of the derivative market that supported the housing bubble during the last decade, and offers useful recommendations for avoiding the next bubble-and-bust. He is one of the few observers to have understood how today's crisis has roots going back three decades, and to have seen how it connects to the upward redistribution of income over this period."--Dean Baker, Co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research and author of Plunder and Blunder: The Rise and Fall of the Bubble Economy



"Les Leopold's book is a cogent, clear, and compelling explanation of how Wall Street's Big Casino wrecked the economy. I might not agree with all of his provocative proposals, but so what? This book is a fun read, despite the sickening scenario it describes."--Jonathan Alter, Senior Editor and Columnist at Newsweek and author of the bestselling book The Defining Moment: FDR's 100 Days and the Triumph of Hope



"Les Leopold's account of the economic crisis is the clearest and most accessible that I have seen. It gives a reader with little economics or financial background a riveting description of how Wall Street tore down our economy and what we can do about it. It's a page turner we all should read."--Leo Gerard, International President of the United Steelworkers



"[A]n excellent new book that takes a broader view and offers broader solutions... I recommend adding [it] to any financial shenanigans reading list."--David Swanson, AfterDowningStreet.org



"Finally, here's a book that really lays out in plain English how Wall Street's fictional financial engineering caused the current crisis and what needs to be changed. This compelling and highly entertaining story will both anger and animate you. It takes us into the most lucrative casino ever created and shows how it laid waste to our jobs and our savings--and it provides strong remedies to repay and protect Main Street from the damage done."--Carolyn Mugar, Executive Director, Farm Aid



"If you want to know why it was necessary to give over a trillion dollars to big banks and insurance companies over the last year, Les Leopold's new book is for you... Leopold manages to explain the most complex shenanigans of finance capital in language the average worker can understand. To keep us [from] going off the deep end into despair, he sheathes the sharpest edges with some humor."--Bill Onasch, Labor Advocate Online



"The Looting of America is an insightful analysis of how we got 'hit.' It is packed with data and background information and explores the pros and cons of the options before us, from those 'Wall Street won't like' to those 'Wall Street really won't like'."--John Perkins, author of Confessions of an Economic Hit Man and The Secret History of the American Empire



"Because the financial collapse was built on with so many intricate scams, regular Americans often find themselves intimidated by the sheer complexity. But at bottom, it was a case of insiders taking advantage. Les Leopold has performed a virtuoso service by explaining the economic mess in terms that ordinary people can grasp, in this wonderful and terrifying book."--Robert Kuttner, co-editor of The American Prospect and author of Obama's Challenge

Customer Reviews

The book is a page-turner.
Carola Norton
The book gives a good un-complicated overview of the financial crisis underway.
Abhinav Agarwal
Hedge funds, synthetic CDOs, credit default swaps...oh my!
Valerie J. Saturen

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

48 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Carola Norton on May 31, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A must read for those of us who started to believe the worst is over. But be forewarned: this book will reawaken the anger, frustration, and fear you felt during the 2008 crash. The book clearly explains what happened and why. You'll finally be able to understand collateralized debt obligations (CDOs), credit default swaps (CDS), and all that "fantasy finance." And there's a handy glossary in case your grasp of these tricky topics starts to slip again. The book is a page-turner. There was a point where I couldn't put it down.
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41 of 42 people found the following review helpful By Philip Dray on May 27, 2009
Format: Paperback
I had read and liked Leopold's previous book about labor leader Tony Mazzochi, so was curious about this new title. This is a shorter, more compact book, but that's one of its virtues. It takes on the task of explaining what the heck just happened to our economy, and lays it all out in readable prose, carefully outlining the various shaky financial products that proved to be worthless and that somehow missed the due attention of regulators. The author does a good job of identifying both the culprits and victims of this scam, and offers a compelling explanation for why a vibrant labor movement might have helped keep the banking and corporate titans honest. This is not a happy book, because one senses the problems Leopold discusses are not going to disappear overnight. He has a very nice touch as a writer, weaving easy-to-follow examples and analogies throughout the text. But it's not "economics for dummies" by any means. He's obviously done his homework and the material has depth and intellectual heft. I'd recommend this to anyone seeking a greater understanding of the "crash of 08," and its significance for us all.
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51 of 54 people found the following review helpful By Anthony Lawrence VINE VOICE on July 3, 2009
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Just minutes after I finished reading this I happened to be standing in a long, slow moving line at a store. Someone wondered why they didn't have more clerks working just before a long holiday weekend and the man in front of me voiced the opinion that "nobody wants to work anymore". Somehow that led us into a discussion of the Wall Street/Banking crash.

His first comment was "It's Barney Frank's fault". Of course I knew he was referring to the Community Reinvestment Act. I challenged him on that, but he just got more angry.

Unfortunately, attitudes like his (and the 1 star review below) are pretty common. I call it "Fox News" mentality. Nothing is going to change their minds.

It's sad. The vast majority of these people aren't wealthy, but they are singing the song the wealthy want them to sing.

Anyway, this is a great book. I loved the analogy to "fantasy baseball"; indeed, that's exactly what this is all about. I'd love to see some sort of multiplicative wage cap as he suggested - even if it were set at 100 times the low end it would still do good! However, any suggestion of that will just cause our Fox News loving friends to insist that doing that will just drive executive talent overseas. Of course they will have been fed that line by greedy people who actually would be affected by such a cap.

I had not understood the full impact of the "CDO squared" games until I read this. I tried to explain some of that to the man I mentioned above; he'd have none of it: this was strictly from sub-prime lending to poor people and it was all Barney Frank's fault. End of discussion.

It's refreshing to read someone who knows they don't have all the answers.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Steve Burns TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 22, 2009
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is the best book I have come across on the crash of 2008. The author explains in plain English how the financial sector created derivatives based on fantasy finance that brought down the real economy. The author makes a strong case that it was not greedy consumers and people buying houses that they could not afford, but the greed for bonuses and profits that lead to this chaos. The financial sector thought they had created the perfect, safe, high profit mortgage backed debt instrument. By splitting and mixing mortgages from different borrowers with different levels of risk the belief was that the risk was minimized. Housing prices always go up, right? The rating agencies gladly rated them AAA to get much needed business from their competitors. But, unfortunately housing prices do not always go up. Housing prices are tied to cost of replacement, the rise over the past 80 years was caused by inflation. We were in a housing bubble, the prices had become far removed from replacement cost with the help of loose lending and low interest rates. The author makes some excellent points about how real wages for workers did not increase to match improved productivity out put starting in the late 70's like it had historically. The pay gap lead to average CEOs making 500 times more than the average worker ($50 million CEO salary vs. $30,000 average worker salary). This gap has caused the two working parents world and decreased buying power. A perfect storm for a financial catastrophe. The profit keeping in the executive and investor class lead to the problem of running out of places to store this wealth. Leading to the creation of CDOs, synthetic CDOs, and the derivative industry. These risky derivatives were sold to investors around the world and leveraged to the maximum.Read more ›
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The Looting of America: How Wall Street's Game of Fantasy Finance Destroyed Our Jobs, Pensions, and Prosperity—and What We Can Do about It
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