December 15, 2010
All The Devils Are Here: The Book Club
Posted by David Zaring

Welcome to the Conglomerate's book club on Bethany McLean and Joe Nocera's All The Devils Are Here, their comprehensive account of the financial crisis and the progenitors of same.  What the book does, and what few other financial crisis books have done is to take a longer, more synthetic view of what went wrong - this is no tick-tock.  I'd compare it to Gillian Tett's Fool's Gold in that worthy endeavor.  Here's what I found particularly notable about the McOcera take:

  • It's all about regulatory failure.  The book is no screed against government incompetence, but it is focused on how the government's moral hazardish support of the housing market led to tons of problems.  And then when the crisis develops it (correctly in my view) concentrates on the government's response.  I think the financial crisis illustrates the way that Wall Street has become entwined with Washington, and so I think this is the right focus.  The last paragraph of the book quotes Lewis Ranieri: "What should the government do?"  It's a question that can get lost amid all those Wall Street titans.
  • Paul Volcker, everyone's hero, was a Fannie Mae lobbyist - that's a nice nugget.
  • It's all about housing finance to these guys, and there, the hardly propitious outer planets of the business - thrifts in Long Beach, for example - turn out to have been critical, if fraudulent players.  It's not an area that has gotten nearly enough play - until this book.
  • But there's an eclectic choice of subjects here - good stuff on mortgage makers, credit ratings, Frannie, and Hank Paulson.  Less on other stuff.  So that's how you know what they think is important.

I think you should get the book.  My co-bloggers may have different perspectives on its perspective, of course, and I'm biased towards taking the government view on anything.  So we can all look forward to a good, and interesting, book club.  Do weigh in with your views.

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