Spellbinding, insightful and, perhaps most important, timely.

LORDS OF FINANCE

THE BANKERS WHO BROKE THE WORLD

Erudite, entertaining macroeconomic history of the lead-up to the Great Depression as seen through the careers of the West’s principal bankers.

Investment manager Ahamed sets the stage for his story with Toynbeean sweep. The gold standard, to which the major currencies of the world were tied, was thrown into tumult by World War I. France, Britain and Germany found themselves depleted of gold reserves. The United States, a new economic power holding the bulk of the world’s gold bullion, demanded repayment of loans made to its allies; this forced large, untenable reparation payments on Germany. The main characters of this unfolding drama were a quartet of bankers who saw themselves as “elite tribunes, standing above the fray of politics, national resentments, and amateur nostrums,” and who wielded astonishing, autonomous authority over monetary policy. Eccentric, aristocratic Montagu Norman of the Bank of England dealt with the problem of inadequate gold reserves to support the overvalued pound sterling by convincing Benjamin Strong, head of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, to lower interest rates in America to encourage the flow of gold back to Europe. This directly fueled the U.S. stock-market bubble, Ahamed argues. The crash of 1929 and the worldwide depression that followed were the inevitable results. Other catalysts included the Reichsbank’s irascible, unpredictable Hjalmar Schacht, whose obsession with eliminating reparations led Germany to the brink of default, and vindictive Émile Moreau, whose policy at the Banque de France aimed to destabilize the British pound. Ahamed compares these bankers to the Greek mythological character Sisyphus, condemned to eternal, endless effort. “Their goal is a strong economy and stable prices,” he writes. “This is, however, the very environment that breeds the sort of overoptimism and speculation that eventually ends up destabilizing the economy.” Ahamed soberingly suggests that, “bubbles and crises seem to be deep-rooted in human nature and inherent to the capitalist system.”

Spellbinding, insightful and, perhaps most important, timely.

Pub Date: Jan. 26, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-59420-182-0

Page Count: 546

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2008

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A declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.

ECONOMIC DIGNITY

Noted number cruncher Sperling delivers an economist’s rejoinder to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Former director of the National Economic Council in the administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, the author has long taken a view of the dismal science that takes economic justice fully into account. Alongside all the metrics and estimates and reckonings of GDP, inflation, and the supply curve, he holds the great goal of economic policy to be the advancement of human dignity, a concept intangible enough to chase the econometricians away. Growth, the sacred mantra of most economic policy, “should never be considered an appropriate ultimate end goal” for it, he counsels. Though 4% is the magic number for annual growth to be considered healthy, it is healthy only if everyone is getting the benefits and not just the ultrawealthy who are making away with the spoils today. Defining dignity, admits Sperling, can be a kind of “I know it when I see it” problem, but it does not exist where people are a paycheck away from homelessness; the fact, however, that people widely share a view of indignity suggests the “intuitive universality” of its opposite. That said, the author identifies three qualifications, one of them the “ability to meaningfully participate in the economy with respect, not domination and humiliation.” Though these latter terms are also essentially unquantifiable, Sperling holds that this respect—lack of abuse, in another phrasing—can be obtained through a tight labor market and monetary and fiscal policy that pushes for full employment. In other words, where management needs to come looking for workers, workers are likely to be better treated than when the opposite holds. In still other words, writes the author, dignity is in part a function of “ ‘take this job and shove it’ power,” which is a power worth fighting for.

A declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7987-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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BEATING THE STREET

More uncommonly sensible investment guidance from a master of the game. Drawing on his experience at Fidelity's Magellan Fund, a high- profile vehicle he quit at age 46 in 1990 after a spectacularly successful 13-year tenure as managing director, Lynch (One Up on Wall Street, 1988) makes a strong case for common stocks over bonds, CDs, or other forms of debt. In breezy, anecdotal fashion, the author also encourages individuals to go it alone in the market rather than to bank on money managers whose performance seldom justifies their generous compensation. With the caveat that there's as much art as science to picking issues with upside potential, Lynch commends legwork and observation. ``Spending more time at the mall,'' he argues, invariably is a better way to unearth appreciation candidates than relying on technical, timing, or other costly divining services prized by professionals. The author provides detailed briefings on how he researches industries, special situations, and mutual funds. Particularly instructive are his candid discussions of where he went wrong as well as right in his search for undervalued securities. Throughout the genial text, Lynch offers wry, on-target advisories under the rubric of ``Peter's Principles.'' Commenting on the profits that have accrued to those acquiring shares in enterprises privatized by the British government, he notes: ``Whatever the Queen is selling, buy it.'' In praise of corporate parsimony, the author suggests that, ``all else being equal, invest in the company with the fewest photos in the annual report.'' Another bull's-eye for a consummate pro, with appeal for market veterans and rookies alike. (Charts and tabular material— not seen.)

Pub Date: March 1, 1993

ISBN: 0-671-75915-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1993

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