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A Fighting Chance Paperback – March 31, 2015
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*Starred Review* Warren gained national notoriety during her tenure on the commission to study the financial crisis, leading to creation of the consumer finance agency she headed briefly. In this engaging memoir, she recalls her journey from a childhood of struggle in Oklahoma City to success in academia and politics and laments the lack of chances for others to work hard and achieve their own versions of success. Warren recalls an early marriage, struggling to raise young children as she moved from a career as a teacher to law school to teaching law. She was so agitated by the unfairness of bankruptcy law that she wrote books about it and used her professorship at Harvard as a platform, eventually launching herself into a career in Washington. Armed with stories and statistics about how bankruptcy and predatory banking practices affected middle-class families, Warren lobbied hard for change. She offers a behind-the-scenes look at the political deal-making and head-butting machinations in efforts to restore the nation’s financial system after the mortgage debacle. Warren recalls negotiations with political figures from Senator Ted Kennedy to President Obama as well as her hard-fought campaign to unseat Scott Brown as U.S. senator from Massachusetts. This is a passionate memoir of one woman’s personal story and the larger story of corruption in financial circles and the need for reform that balances the interests of the American middle class against those of the corporate sector. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: The senior senator from Massachusetts and former Harvard law professor here gives the backstory on her fight for the middle class in a memoir that is sure to attract interest beyond the book-review section. --Vanessa Bush --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
“A potent mix of memoir and policy… The title of this book reminds us that this is about Warren's fight. She is still the fiery advocate who called for a bureau to protect consumers or, as a second choice, ‘no agency at all and plenty of blood and teeth left on the floor.'” ―The New York Times Book Review
“Moving … Ultimately, the book's message is that one person can make a difference.… After reading this book, it is comforting to know that Elizabeth Warren, with her passion, anger and bluntness, will not be silenced.” ―The Washington Post
“[Warren's] storytelling is well-paced and engaging… She mixes policy points with rich behind-the-scenes anecdotes.” ―The Boston Globe
“Intelligent and informative … [Warren is] good, plainspoken company who makes you feel smarter for having spent such easy time with her…. Her new book, which is a loving look at her family as well as her country, will only broaden her base.” ―Entertainment Weekly
“A revealing account of Warren's rise to prominence … [Warren's] arguments demand to be taken seriously…. As a politician and activist, Warren's great strength is that she retains the outsider's perspective, and the outsider's sense of moral outrage, which runs throughout A Fighting Chance… She's an indomitable battler for the underdog, and she doesn't take no for an answer.” ―The New York Review of Books
“The Wall Street watchdog and U.S. senator has produced a readable and sometimes infuriating explanation of the biggest financial crisis of our time.” ―People
“[Warren] has a compelling story to tell…. She is also entertaining about professional politics.” ―The Economist
“Warren's prose is as … direct as her book's title. She has a good story to tell and she tells it well…. Warren's accomplishments defied expectations virtually every step of the way.” ―The Christian Science Monitor
“Passionate… Her vision [for the country], laid out elegantly and effectively in A Fighting Chance, involves investments by ‘we the people,' through our government, in schools, roads and research labs, and in a social safety net for ‘the least among us,' investments that are, at once, in our own self-interest and in the national interest.” ―Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“Remarkable… A Fighting Chance takes the reader into the nitty-gritty of our nation's most controversial financial decisions with a depth of insight and experience no one else in today's politics can offer… In a time when our country's greatness seems to be in crisis, this is the story of a woman who is the living embodiment of the American Dream.” ―Harvard Political Review
“Revealing…Warren's book describes the troubling patterns and practices of high-level Washington.” ―Gretchen Morgenson, The New York Times
“Warren has written a good book … Frank and quite strong.” ―The Nation
“Warren's moment has arrived … To understand why Sen. Elizabeth Warren is the fastest-rising new star in the Democratic Party … read her new book … A Fighting Chance tells true and important tales about the great scandal of our age, the corruptions that engulf Washington today, and the battles of good people to reform them … [Warren] stands for the integrity and spirit that Americans hunger for in public life, which could someday bring her from one end of Pennsylvania Avenue to the other.” ―The Hill
“[A] call to arms … Reading the rousing finale of A Fighting Chance … you can hear the sound of the crowd roaring with approval.” ―Mother Jones
“[Warren] displays a down-home charm and an effortless rapport with everyday people … The book is more memoir than manifesto; Warren emerges as a committed advocate with real world sensibility, who tasted tough economic times at an early age and did not forget its bitterness.” ―Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“A passionate memoir of one woman's personal story and the larger story of corruption in financial circles and the need for reform that balances the interests of the American middle class against those of the corporate sector…. [Warren] offers a behind-the-scenes look at the political dealmaking and head-butting machinations in efforts to restore the nation's financial system.” ―Booklist (starred review)
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1. Inner workings of Washington
2. The nuts and bolts of crafting regulation.
3. Thought questions about banking regulation and different perspectives on the mechanism of action of the housing crisis.
4. Warren's career trajectory from struggling stay at home mom to attorney to academic to government employee to senator.
The first thing to say is that this author comes across a lot more likeable in her book than her public persona (Fauxcahontas). She was a real person who had real bills to pay before she became an academic or a politician. The problems (as I see them) are twofold:
1. She approaches the problems as an academic/ philosopher/ attorney (instead of as an engineer/ scientist/ someone who has hands on experience) and she seems to imagine that you can just write enough laws to bring Paradise to Earth. The author asserts that the business cycle can just be legislated/ regulated out of existence. (p. 177). People have been trying that game for a very long time, and have not succeeded as of yet.
2. She keeps turning this into a morality play whereby there are Heroic Little People against Big Bad Banks. There are other perspectives on what caused the banking crisis. There could have been other causes. Or there could have been more than one cause. (But don't tell Senator Warren!)
a. Thomas Sowell has written a very nice book. (The Housing Boom and Bust: Revised Edition). He tells a different version of events. Banks made the rational decision to lend to subprime borrowers under the threat of government sanction (Community Reinvestment Act) or being charged with that all-purpose tool of "Racism" and just that small change was enough to vitiate the mortgages that they resold in the way that they were and destabilize the financial system. The possibility that maybe, just maybe, the banks had a reason to target minority lenders was not touched in this book, save for a brief mention buried WAY back in the footnotes on page 304 where she dismisses that possibility out of hand.
b. Nassim Taleb had a different take on this in his book Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder (Incerto). The government could have know that having a small number of banks with a huge asset base per bank is a recipe for disaster. If you have 1,000 banks and five of them fail, then there are still 995 left to take care of the needs of the populace. But if you have 10 banks and 5 fail, then that is half of your banking sector gone. There are all sorts of knock on effects that were not even considered-- such as: If banks know that they are too big to fail, then they will behave in such a way with their lending decisions. It is called "moral hazard" and it has been observed in many other places. China. Japan. Korea. (Japan is still sorting out the problems with their zombie banks something like 20 years after the Asian crisis and China is still dreaming up new ways to paper over their banking problems on a semi-annual basis.)
Warren is trained as an attorney (and later as a politician, so in her mind it is simple enough to just pass a law and that will make everything OK just *somehow*.
c. Another perspective still is that banking could be a knowledge problem-- but that was not the perspective/ discussion that was taken in this book (as opposed to finding some easy villain to flagellate). It could be that crafting appropriate legislation is just inherently difficult for people who are more like attorneys than engineers. There have been books that have been written about things such as high speed trading (Flash Boys by Lewis, Michael 1st edition (2014) Hardcover), in which the regulatory framework was moving much more slowly than the product could even be invented. It could be that mortgages (which are financial products) are changing faster than the government can develop regulatory frameworks to handle them.
There are also some minor problems with the book:
1. (p. 72). The author talks about wage stagnation-- and I agree with her wholeheartedly on this. (I have a couple of degrees and make about the same money as my parents did during their working years-- and neither of them could have even passed the drug tests for these jobs that I have gotten.) But then she notes that there is a Trinity that accounts for this stagnation of living standards: Wage stagnation. Health insurance increases. Tuition inflation. Being an academic, Warren might have easily devoted a few pages to tuition inflation and the mechanism of action thereof. (But then that might have hit a bit too close to home.) And if she wanted to talk about policy issues, then she could have talked about some of the reasons that health care costs are going up. (This was done well in another book. Priceless: Curing the Healthcare Crisis (Independent Studies in Political Economy)) But, nope! Back to hammering the banks it was.
2. (p. 82). She saw 2008 coming beforehand? Um, ok.
3. (pps 91, 186, 215). She hammers on about things on the Standard Progressive Wishlist and repeats a lot of the Standards Progressive Banalities. Investments in "infrastructure" and "education" with no quantitative discussion of how much is needed or what kind of growth rates it would generate. Then there is the famous "you didn't build that" line. And you hired workers that "the rest of us paid to educate."
Highlights of the book:
1. The explanation of the genesis of a new regulatory agency and what it took to get it off the ground and all of the horsetrading that went into making it (I do believe that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was and is very needful.)
2. The introduction of the concept of treating mortgages like a product (like a light bulb or a package of package of chicken) and not as a contract with all the attendant changes in regulation. (p. 129).
Verdict: Worth the time. Worth the price.