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Senseless Panic: How Washington Failed America Hardcover – June 1, 2010

4.8 out of 5 stars 34 customer reviews

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Product Description
The 1980s opened with the prime interest rate at an astonishing 21.5 percent, leading to a severe recession with unemployment reaching nearly 11 percent. Depression-like conditions befell the agricultural sector, a bubble burst in the energy sector, a rolling real estate recession swept the country, the entire thrift industry was badly insolvent and the major money center banks were loaded with third world debt. Some 3,000 bank and thrifts failed, including nine of Texas’ 10 largest, and Continental Illinois, which, at the time, was the 7thlargest bank in the nation. These severe conditions were not only handled without creating a panic, the economy actually embarked on the longest peacetime expansion in history.

In Senseless Panic: How Washington Failed America, William M. Isaac, Chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) during the banking and S&L crises of the 1980s, details what was different about 2008’s meltdown that allowed the failure of a comparative handful of institutions to nearly shut down the world’s financial system. The book also tells the rousing story of Isaac’s time at the FDIC. With accessible and engaging prose, Isaac:

  • Details the mistakes that led to the panic of 2008 and 2009
  • Demystifies the conditions America faced in 2008, and
  • Provides a roadmap for avoiding similar shutdowns and panics in the future

Senseless Panicis a provocative, quick-paced, and thoughtful analysis of what went wrong with the nation's banking system and a blunt indictment of United States policy.

Amazon Exclusive: Review fom Professor Cornelius Hurley

Before “too big to fail” became part of our lexicon, there was Bill Isaac, Chairman of the FDIC in the 1980s. Drawing on his experience from that era leading the banking system out of a potential catastrophe, Isaac in his new book, Senseless Panic has provided us with a must-read analysis for anyone looking to understand the 2008 economic crisis. Senseless Panic offers both fresh insight and devastating analysis, showing how a pattern of governmental inaction and regulatory failures played leading roles in the meltdown. During the critical days in September 2008, when Congress was debating the original bailout package, Isaac was called on by a bipartisan group of legislators to educate Congress on the failings of the Government’s plan. He played a crucial role in defeating the initial proposal in the House. Though it eventually passed, Isaac presents a clear-eyed critique of TARP as an unnecessary and waste of taxpayer money.

Isaac first gives readers a succinct and straightforward look at how in the 1980s the FDIC and Paul Volker’s Fed managed to stave off a brewing bank panic with unpopular but necessary steps. He provides a roadmap on how later the lack of political will, agency turf wars and boneheaded policy responses to the bank and S&L crises of the 1980s led to the current debacle. Isaac explains how banking regulators need to have the courage to promote unpopular countercyclical strategies to protect the financial markets. Isaac shows how the regulators botched the job, calling out a bipartisan collection of economic and political leaders including treasury secretaries, the SEC and FASB for their failed policies and poor reaction to the crisis of 2008.

Senseless Panic is an important book, one that should be on the reading list of anyone interested in America’s economic well-being. Isaac shows how the failure to understand and appreciate the banking crises of the 1980s turned the inevitable economic downturn in 2008 into an economic force of destruction. For the next generation of economic policymakers looking to head off an economic tsunami, Senseless Panic is the place to start.

Professor Cornelius Hurley
Executive Director, Morin Center for Banking & Financial Law
Boston University
Former Assistant General Counsel, Federal Reserve Board


it has the wisdom of experience. (The Economist, July 2010). This book certainly contains words of wisdom. (Financial World, September 2010).
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Read the Forward
In the forward of Senseless Panic, learn about the role the FDIC has played since the Great Depression [PDF].

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 190 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (June 1, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0470640367
  • ISBN-13: 978-0470640364
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 0.8 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,557,755 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've admired a number of opinion pieces Mr. Isaac has written on financial regulatory reform and the handling of the 2007-09 financial crisis. He did a great job developing the capabilities and professionalism of the FDIC, and he should have been listened to more than he was by administration and congressional leaders in the mid-80s; if he had been, the S&L crisis would have been much less traumatic and costly.

The chief value of this book is the insights it provides about how Isaac's thinking and the thinking at the FDIC developed in the early '80s to respond to a series of institution failures in a coherent and responsible manner. Isaac took some brave stands at FDIC that served the taxpayers well.

Some of his more general observations about the recent financial crisis are also interesting and valid (IMHO) up to a point. However, the book suffers from Isaac's bank-centric and FDIC-centric perspective. It's an example of how, when the only tool you have is a hammer, all problems look like nails. He asserts repeatedly that the recent crisis would have been resolved more easily had only government leaders acted as the FDIC acted in the mid-80s.

Unfortunately, the recent crisis was qualitatively different than the bank and S&L crises of the '80s, though, to be sure, some aspects of it repeat the history of the '80s (and of 1998, the '30s, 1907, etc.).
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Format: Hardcover
Bill Isaacs' book may never make the best seller list and that's a shame. While other books tell a story, Isaacs book tells THE story. While other books decipher what federal regulators and officials did wrong, Isaac grasps with great difficulty to find what if anything they did right.

What happened that stopped the meltdown in its tracks and prevented Depression II ? Policymakers will tell you it's the extrodinary measures that they took. And while they may have bought time, the financial markets didn't turn until Congress put a gun to FASBs' ( the board that determines accounting standards )head and demanded they back off mark to market accounting standards imposed in 2007 which had beend suspended since 1938 ( helping end the Great Depression ).

What's wrong with transparency ? Nothing. But imagine being forced to sell your house on Galveston isle AS a hurricane is headed your way. And you have only 24 hours to do it. Is that the fair value of that house ?

Isaac relentlessly hammered Congress and the regulators to bring common sense to the bank accounting standards before it was too late. And they did ( March 2009 ). What followed was one of the biggest market meltups since the 1930s. This allowed markets to become liquid again and banks to begin the process of rebuilding their capital structure.

End result. For now the markets are mending. Altho the final page has not been written. Isaac helped save the hour and gave our capitalist system the chance for another day.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I read Bill Isaac's "Senseless Panic: How Washington Failed America" for a couple of reasons. First, the recent financial spasm was a signal event in the history of the United States financially, sociologically, and we shall see how else. I wanted to read a concise and no-nonsense analysis of the events we are living through, gain more understanding of how those events occurred despite the mountains of legislation that for almost 40 years have followed every banking hiccup, seek explanation of why it came to pass that we followed prescriptions that practically brought banking, the very cornerstone of capitalism, to its knees along with the essential institutions it supports, and follow an informed path of logic to superior alternatives.

Second, I wanted to hear it from Bill Isaac himself, and here's why.

"Senseless Panic" describes, as an introduction to a discussion of their current relevance, various upheavals of the 80's; the mammoth thrift problem, the disaster in the oil patch, the collapse of a major banking chain in Tennessee and Kentucky, the failure of the quite large Continental Illinois Bank, and others. Bill Isaac served FDIC as Chairman during this period. Those knowledgeable of the challenges that all of those events brought to FDIC and the banking industry and the public are well aware (and history undoubtedly will underestimate) how fortuitous was the intersection of Bill Isaac's FDIC tenure and all the aforementioned events.

Serving as Chairman Isaac's Director of Bank Supervision during this era, I quickly grew to appreciate his thoughtful and proactive approach to problem solving.
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