A smart reporter with an instinctive tilt to the left, Garson (All the Livelong Day, not reviewed, etc.) follows her money around the world in this perceptive financial odyssey.
First Garson deposited half of her book advance ($29,500 net) in a charming one-horse bank in New York State. Part of that hoard proceeded, through the Fed Funds desk at Chase, to finance a letter of credit for a seafood wholesaler to an Asian shrimp distributor. Chase moved more of the reporter’s capital from rustic New York to rural Thailand, where Caltex used it to construct a refinery. On the spoor of her dollars, the intrepid author got to know the earnest engineers and the indentured laborers among the cadres of visiting workers. From Hong Kong to uptight Singapore, she learned the ways of East Asia. The other half of the advance was lodged with a mutual fund managed by the redoubtable Michael Price, who pushed Chase into the encompassing arms of Chemical Bank. The result was lots of pink slips and extra moolah for the mutual-fund investors. Garson’s fund, to wring cash out of Sunbeam (which it controlled), called in “Chainsaw Al” Dunlap to restructure the venerable appliance maker. Dunlap publicized himself, outsourced, jiggled the books, fired executives and line employees alike, and, finally, utterly destroyed Sunbeam. Following her dollars, the author attended plant closings in Tennessee and Maine, painting sympathetic portraits of displaced workers. Without charts or graphs or technical jargon, her text puts a human face on capital development loans, Malaysian labor policies, and IMF strictures. Unreconstructed liberal as capitalist and investor, the author takes a proprietary, personal approach to her refinery, her lawn-furniture factory, and her prawn farm. At the end, she longs “to see the bankers and investors suffer, just once, some of the personal insecurity and loss that their schemes inflict upon others.”
The dismal science is no longer quite so dismal with the arrival of this wonderfully instructive report.