Thursday, May 30, 2013

Review of Michael Lewis's "Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World"

I loved The Big Short, and I liked this a lot. Lewis has the knack of bringing complicated financial stuff to life, and making it comprehensible, through a combination of anecdote and analogy. He's really great at this. Unlike the other books, though, he's on political territory here, and I suspect his instincts are not so sound. He's also writing about people other than Americans, and I suspect he is not immune from the kinds of prejudices about other nations that make for easy shorthand. He knows this, and he makes it apparent that he knows, but even so there is a bad taste in the mouth. Are all Greeks really lazy and venal? Are all Germans really obsessed with shit, and does this explain what happened with their financial system?

I think he's particularly unfair to the Germans, as indeed so many others are. Once you get passed all the shit stuff, what the Germans really stand accused of is believing the ratings agencies. If they shouldn't have, then surely the offence is with them rather than with Germany's modest, local banking system.

And it's funny the way that the final chapter, about America, has to end on a note of optimism, even though just a few pages earlier he was lambasting the 'something will turn up' attitude that allowed so many people to indulge in so much stupidity. I don't think Americans are aware of just how ingrained this need to find a bright note to end on is part of their national character. Optimism is nice, but stupid faith that something will turn up is actually dis-empowering and in itself leads to more bad decisions.

Still a very good read though.

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