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Empire of Debt: The Rise of an Epic Financial Crisis (Agora Series) Paperback – October 6, 2006

4.0 out of 5 stars 130 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Many Americans have resisted the notion that their country is an imperial power. The idea seems to contradict the values of the Republic and its Founding Fathers. But in Empire of Debt, prominent financial analysts Bill Bonner and Addison Wiggin argue passionately that not only is the United States an empire, but it is also one whose end is coming soon. Bonner and Wiggin are the brains behind www.dailyreckoning.com, an iconoclastic and irreverent market advisory service that has long raised concerns about American indebtedness and warned of a looming dollar crisis. In Empire of Debt, a sequel to their earlier doom-and-gloom book Financial Reckoning Day, they elaborate on their argument that the U.S. economy is about to implode.

Bonner and Wiggin enumerate a long list of chronic ailments that imperil the American financial system--a massive trade deficit, soaring personal and government debt, a housing bubble, runaway military expenditures. These problems "hardly disturb the sleep of the imperial race," the authors write. "[But] all empires must pass away." Bonner and Wiggin argue that American imperial delusions are similar to the fantasies that fueled the dot-com market mania. They recommend readers buy gold as insurance in the event of a financial crisis. Empire of Debt flounders when discussing how America indebted itself; the authors blame the Federal Reserve Board's low interest rates but gloss over the fact that rates were slashed because the U.S. teetered on the brink of deflation in 2002 and 2003 (a topic they give more attention to in Financial Reckoning Day). As hardcore free-marketeers, Bonner and Wiggin also seem to long for the pre-welfare days of the 1920s but forget how that period's policies led to the Great Depression. That said, Empire of Debt contains many revelations that will open eyes. --Alex Roslin --This text refers to the Digital edition.


" The doom mongering is leavened with some waspishly witty writing" ("Daily Telegraph," 6th December 2005)

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Product Details

  • Series: Agora Series
  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (October 6, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 047198048X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0471980483
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1.1 x 8.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (130 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,874,599 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By David Ludden on August 22, 2006
Format: Hardcover
When my grandparents bought their home in the 1930s, they made paying off the mortgage a high priority and celebrated when the house was finally theirs. They worked hard, pinched every penny and took good care of what they had. They kept their house tidy and in good repair; they never used the fireplace because they did not want to get it dirty, and the furniture stayed good as new under its plastic covers. When they died, they were debt free and had money in the bank. It was these virtues--thrift and industry--that built the United States into the most powerful empire the world has ever known, according to Bill Bonner and Addison Wiggin in their new book, Empire of Debt: The Rise of an Epic Financial Crisis.

Bonner and Wiggin view ancient Rome as the classical model of empire. Running an empire was an expensive business; the folks in the homeland needed to be mollified with government handouts (bread and circuses), while a large military had to be maintained in the frontier. Rome used its military power to exact tribute from neighboring states; it was a protection racket, no different from the Mafia. Nevertheless, this scheme generally kept the central state solvent and the territories at peace. The United States is also an empire, Bonner and Wiggin maintain, but it does not follow the classical model. It placates its citizens with massive distributions of government largess while using its powerful military to exert influence and keep peace abroad. However, "[i]nstead of getting paid for providing protection, the United States is on the receiving end of loans from its tributary states and trading partners " (p. 77). This is how the United States became the Empire of Debt.
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Format: Hardcover
I read this tag team of financial prognisticators' first book, Financial Reckoning Day, and LOVED it. Well, loved it in the way you can love a book that tells you history is all for naught and the financial world as we know it is coming to an end (at least they smiled when they said that, in a bemused kind of way).

But it's my understanding these guys wrote that book and some of this one while over in France (they're also the team behind the Daily Reckoning ezine, which I also read). There must be something in the wine over there that makes you see a little more deeply into things than most are prone to here in the States. Or maybe it's the distance from their homeland (they're both American) that gives them perspective.

Because I found Empire of Debt, which I just got and finished, nearly as eye-opening as the discussion they'd already started in the last book. In short, easy credit and wild spending will get us in the end. Already, it's nipping at our heels. Even while most of us, right on up to the powers that be -- who should be exercising a little more caution, but instead happen to be the worse over-spenders of them all -- refuse to pay attention to the message.

But it's there in the history books. And it's in this one, which you could call a kind of history lesson as much as you could call it a forecast for things to come. Great material and well done. Definitely worth a read for anyone (smart) who cares about the future of the world economy.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Bonner is a very entertaining and witty writer.

But in this book he's saying (over and again) not much more than:

1. Empires are created by vainglorious self-deluded fools.
2. Empires always overreach and go broke and collapse.
3. America is an Empire.
4. America buys more from overseas than it sells there, and that's bad.
5. Americans spend too much and don't save enough.
6. The housing market is a bubble due to pop.
7. Gold is a good store of value.

That's about it, along with some fragments of schoolbook history. Hope I "saved" you some money!
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Format: Hardcover
This book is an interesting concoction - akin to the contrarian stance in the marketplace. When everyone else is buying shares, these guys are advocating gold. When economic growth sits at a healthy 4.2% per annum - these guys preach gloom.

The basis of their argument is the record US foreign debt, and they see this as the banana skin on which the USA will ultimately slip. The argument has some merits, but the outcome is not as inevitable as the authors argue.

The irony of debt is that it can actually integrate an economy more closely with that of the rest of the world. Just as the old adage goes that if you have a million dollar overdraft at the bank, you get really great service, so too - if a nation has a high debt exposure, then the rest of the planet is more inclined to talk business. Who, after all, could afford to see America fail? Could China? Could Europe? I doubt it.

So I'm not so sure that the gloom is warranted - and I find this tendency of today's political and economic commentators to choose one stance or another academically weak. The truth in economics is seldom anything but a series of "but on the other hand..." statements. Debt is bad...but on the other hand.

Next question posed by the authors: Is America an Empire? Does it behave as an empire? These authors believe it does, but again I'm not so sure the truth is that simple. Sure, Iraq really does appear to be about oil hegemony at the highest politcal level - but on the other hand the American economy is made up of so many non-political commercial organisations that it is unrealistic to say that the USA behaves as a single minded Roman-styled empire. Microsoft, or Dell or Amazon will do their own thing with or without the politicians.
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