What happens when the walls of Wall Street come crashing down? Donald Trump, for one thing. A long but not oppressive study blending politics, economics, and history.
Tooze (History/Columbia Univ.; The Deluge: The Great War, America and the Remaking of the Global Order, 1916-1931, 2014, etc.), whose previous book won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, examines the “first crisis of a global age” as it played out in an increasingly interlocked financial world. One driver was the deregulation of financial institutions, which was not confined to the United States. As the author notes, deregulation was central to the British plan to convert London into ground zero for “many of the most fast-paced global transactions” that were remaking the world. Tooze complicates the usual narratives. While many writers, especially on the right, have pegged the financial meltdown on the subprime mortgage crisis, agencies such as Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae in fact kept loans to high standards, and that aspect of the larger financial crisis proved more symptom than cause. Still, those mortgages worked to distort the market, and “when you distort the market, crises are inevitable.” One unintended effect of the rattling of capital was the strengthening of Russia, whose “new prosperity was associated not with independence from the world economy but with entanglement in it,” and China, whose economy responded “in directions that the Beijing leadership had been struggling to counteract.” Some of the broader consequences were more profound, including a schism between globalists and protectionists in the U.S. and Europe—a schism that, by Tooze’s account, resulted a decade later in Brexit, the election of Trump (whose “objectionable personality and outlandish policy proposals now had to be weighed against the more basic political question of who could do what for whom”), and the rush to once again deregulate the very forces that had set off the crisis in the first place.
First-rate financial history and an admirable effort to wrestle a world-changing series of events between covers.