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When All Else Fails: Government as the Ultimate Risk Manager Hardcover – June 15, 2002

4.6 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


David Moss...offers a novel perspective on the extraordinary expansion of government. Where once it confined its remit to the bare essentials of defence, internal security and the enforcement of private-property rights, today's leviathan spreads into every corner of national life, not just by taxing and spending but also by regulating. Much of the growth, Mr. Moss argues, has come from the state's unique ability to reallocate risk. Government has expanded its reach because it is the ultimate risk manager...[An] enlightening book. (The Economist 2002-05-11)

Moss examines public policy attempts to either spread or shift the burden of risk from a favored group to others by tracing major US social reform movements...Given the antistatist nature of American democracy, Moss concludes that government's redistribution of various risks of its favored citizens has served as a substitute for a more significant redistribution of income. Readers interested in the historical roots of American institutions should find this book a treat. (R. Kelly Choice 2002-11-01)

This is a useful and worthwhile book for anybody interested in the evolution of U.S. government risk management or effective policy design. Professor David Moss argues that the U.S. government has since its inception acted as a manager of risk due to its unique ability to enforce action...Moss deserves congratulations for showing government policy to be more than self-interested rent seeking and for revealing the reasoning behind government risk management--a recommended hook. (Thomas Kemp Journal of Economic Issues)


David Moss's book makes an innovative and persuasive contribution to the history of regulation and social policy in the United States...This is a major work in the field. (John Coatsworth, Harvard University)

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; 1st edition (June 15, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674007573
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674007574
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.4 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,885,112 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I bought this book on the strength of a review in The Economist and was not disappointed. With policies as varied as limited liability, central banking, deposit insurance, and Social Security, American legislators transformed government into an insurer of last resort. Sometimes they shift risk from prospective victims to those better able to afford the loss (product liability); at other times they spread catastrophic risks over the whole tax base (flood insurance). The book charts the expansion of government in the United States from the late 19th century to its zenith in the late 1970s. The author answers the objections of the Chicago and Austrian schools - Becker, Hayek, Mises, and the others - in convincing fashion thanks to its moderate tone and extensive research. The prose is clear, surprising for a book dealing with such complex subject matter. The chapter on the emergence of limited liability corporations is particularly strong. Unfortunately, the chapter on product liability could have used a bit more skepticism. Few readers will share the author's view that tort lawyers are an unalloyed blessing. The author sidesteps many of the problems we now face with exploding damage awards and wide discrepancies in the awards handed down in various jurisdictions. Nor does he grapple with the consequences these problems impose for medical research and the US insurance industry.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This author has a lot to say about the topic, reviewing governmental trials, errors and developments in several settings: corporate limited liability, money, bankruptcy law, workers' insurance, social security, and product liability, among others. Each area is well-researched and crisply explained. The author moves at a good pace: the book is informative without bogging down, and is well-edited. My knowledge in these areas is significantly deepened, particularly in their legal dimensions, and I see debates and rationales of various players, private and governmental, weaving through the narratives, which I had been unaware of. For example, bankruptcy at an early stage (in a few colonies) appears to have been intended as an orderly and fair means for creditors to get at assets, and less in its modern form of a device more oriented to relief of debtors. Many such facets of the topic are set forth here, as they unfolded through time. This book came out around 2002, so sadly, I am left to apply its (clear and well-laid-out) ideas to the massive risk management events that have happened lately. But this book gives me a platform from which to consider such things as the Dodd-frank legislation and PPACA.

I am grateful to the author for staying in a disciplined way on the topics, and not overstaying or getting lost in digressions.

In my quest to learn a historical background to risk management, I previously read "Freaks of Fortune," which started with sea voyage insurance and walked through slavery and other 19th century institutions which are (arguably) risk management attempts. I like these sorts of books, which take a broad view of what arrangements in society may be considered "risk management," from family arrangements to various customs, to major legislation, and go in a scholarly and methodical way through the pertinent history.
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Format: Paperback
"Too Big to Fail"
"A risk to the economy"

We see these phrases in the media now more and more. What they imply is the mutalization of all risk i.e. the risks that individual managers take of "too large to fail" institutions will be borne by the government, and therefore all of us.

If JPM or C rolled over today - would the US government let it happen? Would the IMF? Would the BIS? Of course not. We are all implictly short a load of puts on collective market risk. This incentivizes individual managers to make riskier bets (and actually forces them to do so, if they want to remain competitive). This therefore raises the strike of these puts higher and higher i.e. things can go very badly much sooner, and individual institutions are LESS insulated from market volaitlity than they were 30-40 years ago.

Sub-prime moral hazard is playing itself out now (q1 '08). Credit creation through innovation unlocks equity and allows for economic expansion. This is a reasonable policy goal. However, Moss' claim is that this innovation (unlike in Silicon Valley), comes with a built in safety net that encourages excessive risk taking.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Provides excellent discussion material for a Masters level course in risk management I teach for public administrators. It outlines some interesting perspectives.
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Format: Paperback
A better title would probably be "you Joe Shmuck taxpayer are the ultimate subsidy for risk takers...who will hoover your dough out of your pocket with bait and switch faster than three card monte."

Sure to rise on AMAZON's sales rankings, this is an excellent work that walks through the practical implications of the USGOV absorbing failed risk. I always tell my students "risk is the probability things will turn out badly" but am now thinking of switching it to "risk is the probability you'll hear `hi, we are from the government and we are here to help.' In your practical career in finance."

Soon to be on every Washington Wonk's bedside, so jump in and actually read this excellent book so you'll be ahead of the game.
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