A knowledgeable, clearly written exposé.

READ REVIEW

THE MONSTER

HOW A GANG OF PREDATORY LENDERS AND WALL STREET BANKERS FLEECED AMERICA—AND SPAWNED A GLOBAL CRISIS

Another look at the subprime mortgage lending meltdown, with a focus on the predatory housing finance corporation Ameriquest and the once-venerable Wall Street firm of Lehman Brothers.

Formerly a staff reporter for the Wall Street Journal, Hudson (editor: Merchants of Misery: How Corporate America Profits from Poverty, 1996) is now a senior investigator at the Center for Responsible Lending. Recent books about the global financial meltdowns have designated a variety of villains. Roland Arnall (1939–2008), founder of Ameriquest, has appeared in many of those previous books, but Hudson makes him the center of his narrative. The immigrant son of a Czech mother and a Romanian father, the boy settled in Los Angeles and became a real-estate developer before entering the mortgage-loan business. In Hudson’s eyes, Arnall always lacked a moral compass. He obsessed about hiring as many young salesmen as possible who would lie to potential customers and forge documents if it meant bringing a new mortgage into the portfolio. The consumers must share the blame because they signed papers they failed to understand, but that was part of Arnall’s plan—prey on poorly educated marks, many of them minorities and widows, starting in Orange County, Calif., and working outward from there. The insanely profitable business became more profitable still after the entry of Wall Street investment bankers such as Lehman Brothers, which could package the financially unsound mortgage loans and sell them to greedy investors. Hudson does a workmanlike job unfolding Arnall’s biography, though the facts about his business tactics, personal life and emotions never quite solve the puzzle of how he slept at night, given the huge numbers of lives he ruined as the marks lost their homes. The saga is doubly depressing because Arnall hired from a seemingly endless supply of amoral salesmen and managers. Hudson is a master of context, supplying the pre-1990s history within the mortgage-lending business, Wall Street and the government-regulation realm.

A knowledgeable, clearly written exposé.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-8050-9046-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Times/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: July 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2010

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Essential reading for citizens of the here and now. Other economists should marvel at how that plain language can be put to...

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2014

  • Kirkus Prize
  • Kirkus Prize
    finalist

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • National Book Critics Circle Finalist

CAPITAL IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY

A French academic serves up a long, rigorous critique, dense with historical data, of American-style predatory capitalism—and offers remedies that Karl Marx might applaud.

Economist Piketty considers capital, in the monetary sense, from the vantage of what he considers the capital of the world, namely Paris; at times, his discussions of how capital works, and especially public capital, befit Locke-ian France and not Hobbesian America, a source of some controversy in the wide discussion surrounding his book. At heart, though, his argument turns on well-founded economic principles, notably r > g, meaning that the “rate of return on capital significantly exceeds the growth rate of the economy,” in Piketty’s gloss. It logically follows that when such conditions prevail, then wealth will accumulate in a few hands faster than it can be broadly distributed. By the author’s reckoning, the United States is one of the leading nations in the “high inequality” camp, though it was not always so. In the colonial era, Piketty likens the inequality quotient in New England to be about that of Scandinavia today, with few abject poor and few mega-rich. The difference is that the rich now—who are mostly the “supermanagers” of business rather than the “superstars” of sports and entertainment—have surrounded themselves with political shields that keep them safe from the specter of paying more in taxes and adding to the fund of public wealth. The author’s data is unassailable. His policy recommendations are considerably more controversial, including his call for a global tax on wealth. From start to finish, the discussion is written in plainspoken prose that, though punctuated by formulas, also draws on a wide range of cultural references.

Essential reading for citizens of the here and now. Other economists should marvel at how that plain language can be put to work explaining the most complex of ideas, foremost among them the fact that economic inequality is at an all-time high—and is only bound to grow worse.

Pub Date: March 10, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-674-43000-6

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Belknap/Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: April 30, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2014

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more