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It Takes a Pillage: Behind the bailouts,bonuses, and backroom deals Hardcover – September 22, 2009

4.6 out of 5 stars 67 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

A former Wall Street manager turned muckraking journalist gets inside how the banks looted the Treasury, stole the bailout, and continued with business as usual

We've all watched as packs of former Big Finance leaders commandeer posts in Washington and lavish trillions in bailouts to "save" big Wall Street firms that will use that money for anything and everything except to fill in Main Street's potholes.

Former Wall Streeter Nomi Prins has been watching, too, and she isn't going to let them get away with it. She knows all about Big Finance and big money and moving numbers - and in this book she exposes the fundamental follies of our economic system and the schemes of the bigwigs who have no intention of letting it change. Prins:

  • Explains that the current crisis did not happen because ordinary citizens were able to borrow a little more than they could afford, but because Wall Street converted loans into assets that allowed it to borrow much, much more than it could afford.
  • Reveals all the ways corporations inhaling bailout money have gamed the system to get the most money with the least oversight.
  • Exposes the power-bankers that bagged more than $5 billion in compensation before and after their companies siphoned off more than a trillion dollars in federal bailout subsidies.
  • Shows how the most egregious pillagers work at the Fed and Treasury department, detailing how Hank Paulson, Ben Bernanke, and Tim Geithner siphoned off $10.7 trillion from the public’s future for Big Finance’s present.
  • Slams a financial system that will not change, if our government doesn't force it to change, no matter what happens in the so-called free market.
  • Is a former managing director at Goldman Sachs, now a senior fellow at Demos, who writes regularly on corruption in Washington and Wall Street for news outlets ranging from Fortune to Mother Jones. It Takes a Pillage is her third non-fiction book.
If you've found yourself enraged and frustrated with how the bank bailout went bust for the American people, or how Wall Street continues to operate as if the rest of the world doesn’t matter, It Takes a Pillage gives voice to your outrage, and provides a deeper understanding of what we really have to be angry about and how we can fight for some real change.

Top Ten Ways Things Could Get Worse from Here
Amazon-exclusive content from author Nomi Prins

The government has nearly convinced the public they have everything under control, when that’s far from the case. In fact, everything could go downhill fast. Here are ten all-too-likely scenarios I look at in my book, It Takes a Pillage:

1. The actual bailout has quietly ballooned to $16 trillion dollars (not including over $3 trillion set aside for money market funds), most of it given out with no strings attached. Wall Street firms could continue to tout the myth that ‘talent’ must be paid for – now with stupid sums of bonus money, funded by the American People.

2. The stock market, which has rallied substantially since the government started giving out free money to the banking industry, could tank on the realization that if that money needed to be paid back any time soon, the banks wouldn’t be good for it.

3. Because bigger is better still seems to be Fed policy, JPM Chase could acquire Bank of America – Merrill Lynch, creating one of the largest, federally subsidized banking firms in the world.

4. Because the bigger just can’t help getting badder, JPM Chase could also acquire Citigroup, and we’d be living with a monopoly economy.

5. We could sink into the delusion that the Obama administration has actually done something to restrain Wall Street, lulling us into a false sense of security. Then the remaining big banks will screw us again.

6. Congress could continue to ignore history and never reinstate the Glass-Steagall Act. That act made banks smaller, more specialized, easier to regulate and less expensive to bail out. Repealing it lead to this mess, and there’s barely a whisper heard in Washington of bringing it back.

7. As a Fed approved bank holding company, Goldman Sachs could buy a lot of small banks just to get access to all the money in savings and checking accounts to gamble with. Plus they’d have that great $250,000 FDIC guarantee they get per account. This would make them the biggest bank in the country.

8. Every bank and government agency with access to some aspect of a federal bailout could max out their subsidies chips at once – pushing the full bailout cost to over $26 trillion.

9. Many mid-sized and smaller banks didn’t need a bailout and have been better at allowing consumers access to credit. The largest banks, flush with federal funding and a poor record of helping average Americans, could buy them all up.

10. The Fed could continue to operate in secrecy, despite multiple moves by Congress to push for a full audit of its largesse. Right now, only the Fed knows what the real worst case scenarios might actually be.

From the Inside Flap

Still ticked off at the Federal government doling out trillions to save Wall Street from its own screwups? You're not alone. You have every right to know exactly how the financial disasters of 2008 happened, why the government leapt so quickly to lavish the reckless perpetrators with cheap loans and subsidies that may never be repaid, and what must be done to ensure it never happens again.

In It Takes a Pillage, former Wall Street insider turned muckraking journalist Nomi Prins argues vehemently and convincingly that the current crisis has almost nothing to do with subprime mortgages and everything to do with a financial system that rewards people who move money instead of people who make things, operates outside of the media's gaze, is sheltered from governmental supervision, and uses leverage to turn risky deals into insanely risky deals.

You'll find out how the revolving door between Wall Street and Washington enabled and encouraged the disastrous behavior of large investment banks. You'll meet the Pillage People: the men who funneled trillions of dollars directly to the banks and the executives whose companies drained the American economy. You'll learn which of the Federal Pillage Triumvirate pirated the biggest part of a $10.7 trillion bounty—Hank Paulson, Ben Bernanke, or Timothy Geithner. You'll decide which private-sector pillager took the biggest share of spoils—Bank of America head Ken Lewis in his unholy alliance with former Merrill Lynch chief exec John Thain, who extracted $225 billion from the public; former AIG exec Joseph Cassano, who banked $315 million, leading the division that nearly drowned AIG before it hooked a $182 billion federal life raft; or Robert Rubin, whose public- and private-sector decisions decimated financial restraint and landed Citigroup in a $388 billion hole.

Prins also takes you on a harrowing tour of the Wall Street mind-set, in which making money is a game and colossal paychecks are a way of keeping score—and getting a huge bonus after churning out fabricated securities and taking out the entire world economy might be the biggest win of all.

The scariest part is that for all the trillions that have been spent or committed to the bloated stalwarts of Wall Street, our economic system remains in disarray. Prins demonstrates that this failure stems from flaws not in these institutions, but in the banking system itself. She shows how irresponsible deregulation whetted both individual and institutional appetites for short-term gain, and produced an addiction to greed and power that still rules the markets even after nearly destroying them.

Complete with a savvy and well-developed proposal for extracting ourselves from this downward financial spiral and stabilizing the economy, ItTakes a Pillage is packed with all the information you need to understand the financial crisis and identify policies that will solve the problem, rather than make it more severe.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (September 22, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0470529598
  • ISBN-13: 978-0470529591
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (67 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #878,636 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Thomas Heller on October 6, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This is an exceptionally well-written account, in detail that doesn't drown the reader, of the actions of the banking and financial industry that lead to the financial meltdown and subsequent economic contraction.

If you have already constructed a good general grasp of the various components at work, Ms. Prins fills in the particulars with a flourish. She correctly points to this being a collapse of a man-made system, fueled by the standard mix of hubris, greed, self-delusion and legislative abandon -- only it's a system that tossed trillions of dollars into a waiting black hole, inevitably touching the lives of tens -if not hundreds- of millions of people.

This is the *best* writing on this debacle I've encountered. I'd rate it right up there as commentary with David Cay Johnston's 'Perfectly Legal' and his 'Free Lunch'. But it's far more than simple commentary; Ms. Prins knows exactly what she's writing about.

It's better than Taleb Nassim's 'The Black Swan' and outdistances James Galbraith's 'Predator State' and Thomas Frank's 'The Wrecking Crew' as a precise commentary on the enemy that has grown and prospered in our midst. Gillian Tett's 'Fools Gold' was a good explanation of the creation -and subsequent rise and abuse- of derivatives in the financial world, but lacks Ms. Prins' comprehensive view, from on high, of the high-octane transmogrification of the banking and financial industry over the past ten years from a service industry into a manufacturing industry designing, producing & marketing a new breed of "securities" built by rocket scientists that blew up after launch but nonetheless produced oodles of bonuses and fees for these firms and their CEOs.
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By Steven D. Wexler

Abe Lincoln used to ask, "If you call the tail of a dog a leg, how many legs does that dog have?" Whenever somebody answered "Five," he would say, "No. Calling a tail a leg doesn't make it a leg." He was referring to slavery, and the habit of euphemizing it as "our peculiar institution." Few bothered to challenge this. Harriet Beecher Stowe was one; she presented slavery as it really was: brutal, inexorable, shameful and turning our entire nation into what many northerners called a shamocracy, rather than a democracy.
In Nomi Prins' recent book, IT TAKES A PILLAGE, she hoists politician after politician and banker after mega-banker upon their own petards, as they pop off their flatulent laissez-faire euphemisms. Like Ellen Brown in CounterPunch (October 2, 2009), Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone (October 15) and Morgan Ibarra in The Humanist (September/October), she fleshes out the rape and pillage of the economy by the kleptocrats of our scamocracy. Together these writers put together a complete scenario of sociopathy--our recent reaming which has been veiled by what Thomas Frank of the Wall Street Journal compared to the mumbo-jumbo of witch doctors, who "repeat their incantations and retreat deeper into dogma."
IT TAKES A PILLAGE is a must-read because it is an inside story. Its tone is urgent and sardonic. She whips off bon mots reminiscent of Galbraith's famous phrase about the 1929 bubble: "a mass escape into make-believe." With just one word, "Really," she emphasizes how economists now know enough to use high unemployment (ten per cent or more) as a deflationary brake upon the hyperinflationary bailout of mega-banks. This high unemployment, extending far into the future, will be our cost for rescuing their banking buddies.
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By John Wasik on September 22, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I thought I knew the ins and out of the greatest financial debacle of our time until I read this book. This is an epic tale of greed, debt and power that belongs in the pantheon of great financial muckraking books. The closest title I can think of is Louis Brandeis's "Other People's Money." Instead of the rapacious robber barons of the early 20th century, we have the debt peddlers from investment banks, insurers and megabanks gorging on the Bush-era anti-regulatory buffet. This book should be a timely template for financial reform, yet the financial services juggernaut has already marshalled its still-potent army of lobbyists, hacks and free-market madmen to defeat any sensible attempts to prevent another disaster. Every lawmaker, policy savant and student of financial history needs to read and digest "Pillage." Unless you are part of the short-term mania that still drives Wall Street compensation practices, this book will make you ill with outrage. We ignore the powerful truths of the book at our peril. We've already spent more than $12 trillion cleaning up after the massive collision of the supertanker SS Avarice with economic reality. Generations will be paying for this catastrophe. If we refuse to learn from this event, the next economic blow-up will not be papered over by US government debts. It will make the Great Depression seem like a Disney Musical. Read this book and call your Congressional representative. John F. Wasik, Author, "The Audacity of Help: Obama's Economic Plan and the Remaking of America"
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Format: Hardcover
The author does an excellent job of demonstrating the extent to which both political parties are essentially guided by the policy recommendations of major Wall Street firms and the largest commercial banks.She shows that the bailout's main goal was,and is, solely to bail out the surviving financial institutions no matter what the costs are ,be it unemployment,foreclosure,or future inflation , that are imposed on the backs of the American taxpayer and Main Street.

An underlying current in the book ,that is not always correctly emphasized , is that it should now be obvious to everyone that Obama follows the policy advice advocated to him from Goldman Sachs,Citibank,Bank of America and J P Morgan.Geithner and Bernanke carry out this policy advise in the Obama admnistration in the same manner that Paulson , Greenspan,and Bernanke carried out Wall Street's policy recommendations in the George Bush administration,that Rubin,Greenspan, and Summers carried out Wall Street's policy recommendations in the Bill Clinton administrations,and Alfred Kahn and Paul Volcker carried out the policy advice of Wall Street in the Carter Administration.The same Wall Street domination shows up whan one studies the Reagan and George H W Bush administrations. Their supply side economic policies were primarily derived from Wall Street speculator-manipulators who sought to destroy the firewalls erected and maintained from 1936-1976 that had prevented the type of massive debt leveraged,banker financed housing and stock market speculation that had destroyed the American economy in the late 1920's and early to mid 1930's .The destruction of the firewalls was called " privatization " and "deregulation" .
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