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A Very Good Book for those very Knowledgeable about Economics but not for Laymen
on February 4, 2012
Any review of this book would have to start with what this book is and what its intended audience is. This book is not an original text but instead consists of a compilation of articles written for the Financial Times, New York Review of Books and the Wall Street Journal as well as testimony in front of the U.S. Senates' Commerce Committee. The bulk of these articles, about 80% of the total text, come from the articles written for the Financial Times. As such, they are written, obviously, for the audience that reads this paper - those very knowledgeable regarding macroeconomics and international finance. The articles assume that readers already have a good knowledge regarding those fields (i.e., at least equal to an upper level undergraduate economics major's education but more like that akin to an MA or MBA in the field). Readers without such a background would not obtain much from these articles.
The articles are assembled into four sections, each written in the years 2008 through 2011 inclusively. The articles begin with the onset of the crash in 2008 and end addressing the Euro crisis as it unfolded through the end of 2011. Those in the first half of the book (roughly) cover the need to provide liquidity to the banking and finance sectors in the immediate aftermath of the 2008 crash. Soros was opposed to the form of Paulson's original TARP plan, which would have provided Paulson with a blank check to act as he pleased, and instead proposed an injection of liquidity in the form of equity into the banking and finance systems instead. Soros makes the case that this would have been more efficient than ridding the banks of "toxic assets". Firstly, because it would have been quicker to engage in and secondly it would have avoided the issue of attempting to value the toxic assets which were very difficult to value anyway. What he overlooks, however, is the fact that this would have probably required the U.S. to nationalize many banks (much like Sweden did during its banking crisis of the 1990s). In these essays, like those throughout most in the book, he very unfortunately ignores the political feasibility of what he proposed albeit his strategies are excellent solutions, at least from a purely academic perspective.
In the essays covering 2009 and 2010 he mostly concentrates on reforms needed to bring bubbles under control or, at least, to mitigate their size. Examples of reforms he proposes in these sections of the book include passing legislature to make CDOs more transparent and reducing the degree of financial leverage. Again, these are good ideas and can work towards the goal of reducing bubbles but in terms of political feasibility they do not seem very likely, unfortunately, to pass the legislatures in either the U.S. or most of the major industrial nations. Considering how important political feasibility is, it is an issue that should have been addressed.
In the last section of the book, covering 2011, he looks at the topical issue (at least topical as of the beginning of 2012) of the Euro and how to solve (or at least mitigate) the problem of the Euro's liquidity. His recommendation is the creation of a Treasury to back the Euro (primarily through bond issuance and bond guarantees) along with providing the European Central Bank with more authority to control monetary supply. He makes the argument well that these steps are the only ones that can prevent a depression in Europe (and possibly the rest of the world being transmitted through Europe). Very unfortunately, again, his essays ignore the political reality. Particularly German opposition to the creation of such institutional changes. In addition, he ignores to address the issue of how much monetary reserves can be made available through such institutions and whether or not they will be sufficient for the purpose. These are two issues that should have been addressed, both in terms of how to overcome them and what the probability would be of overcoming them.
In short, Soros' "solutions" are intellectually sound, at least in the modern (and mainstream) framework of current lines of macroeconomic and international financial thought. His "solutions" are, pretty much, the same as those coming out of most central bankers and academic economists mouth. Very unfortunately, his articles do not address the very important issues of political (in all cases) and economic feasibility (in terms of what he proposes for the Euro). How feasible are his proposals in terms of probability of actually being implemented due to political or economic restraints? What can be done for their successful enactment (i.e., how can the political economic constraints inherent in his proposals be overcome)? These essays needed to include serious and in-depth discussions of these issues. The absence of such discussions prevents this reviewer from granting this collection of essays a five star rating.