In the wake of last year's economic meltdown, many Americans were left to wonder: "Uhm...how did this happen? What is a credit-default swap again? Too big to what, now?"
One would imagine that the totality of the crisis, combined with the widespread lack of knowledge of financial terminology among folks on Main Street who ended up bearing the brunt of these massive systemic failures, would spur the financial media to do a better job of informing the American people about the financial sector.
Well, to that end, the Financial Times has announced its shortlist for "Business Book of the Year"! On the awards main page, the FT says that "the six books together sum up what went wrong in the crisis and may provide a route map away from the error-strewn past." But do they? Before you take a guess, here's a clue: Goldman Sachs is the main sponsor of this book award!
In truth, a few tomes take a glancing shot at the margins of the crisis. Stephen Green's Good Value is called "a striking personal insight into money and morality." Frank Partnoy's The Match King is a historical account of Ivar Krueger, the Bernie Madoff of the 1920s. And In Fed We Trust, is rightly called a "'keenly observed' account of the build-up to last year's US banking crisis."
Liaquat Ahamed's insightful account, Lords of Finance: The Bankers That Broke The World, which takes a hard look at the crisis, makes the cut. But in the end, are there any books that really provide an economic analysis of the current situation?
Finally, this list would have felt lopsided without an economic analysis of the current situation. There were three on the longlist and Animal Spirits by George Akerlof and Robert Shiller won through. The authors launch proposals to rebuild the discipline following the realization that people and businesses are not the rational actors loved by orthodox market economists.
So, we have a bunch of books that basically take a stab at, "Wow! 2008! That was bad!" and one that explicitly sets out to urge a "rebuilding" of the "discipline" -- or the lack thereof.
Let me just offer up a contrasting list from Cardiff Garcia posted to The Big Picture last June. Ahamed, Akerlof, and Shiller make the cut. And since this is his website, it's not surprising that Barry Ritholz's Bailout Nation: How Greed and Easy Money Corrupted Wall Street and Shook the World Economy is on the list, too. The other selections include:
--Chasing Alpha: How Reckless Growth and Unchecked Ambition Ruined the City's Golden Decade, Philip Augar
--Fool's Gold: How the Bold Dream of a Small Tribe at JP Morgan Was Corrupted by Wall Street Greed and Unleashed a Catastrophe, Gillian Tett
--Getting Off Track: How Government Actions and Interventions Caused, Prolonged, and Worsened the Financial Crisis, John Taylor
--House of Cards: A Tale of Hubris and Wretched Excess on Wall Street, William Cohan
--Lecturing Birds on Flying: Can Mathematical Theories Destroy the Financial Markets?, Pablo Triana
--The Myth of the Rational Market: A History of Risk, Reward, and Delusion on Wall Street, Justin Fox
--Street Fighters: The Last 72 Hours of Bear Stearns, the Toughest Firm on Wall Street, Kate Kelly
I think that you readers can size up what you want to spend your free time reading for yourselves. But speaking as someone who doesn't want to get fooled again, and who genuinely believes that I have an obligation to do the best I can to keep readers informed and well-armed, I'm going to be cracking the spines of books on the latter list.