THE DEATH OF THE BANKER
The Decline and Fall of the Great Financial Dynasties and the Triumph of the Small Investor
Three ad rem essays from National Book Award winner Chernow on the convulsive shift in the balance of monetary power (from commercial, investment, and merchant bankers to financial conglomerates) that has marked 20th-century capitalism. Drawing on research he did for The Warburgs (1993) and The House of Morgan (1990), Chernow offers an anecdotal primer on the factors that put paid to the pivotal, frequently dictatorial role once played by bankers in allocating capital throughout Europe and North America. In addressing, even mourning, the eclipse of the banking trade, he recalls the accomplishments of larger-than-life financiers (in particular, John Pierpont Morgan and Siegmund Warburg) who granted the credit required to open the American West, underwrote transcontinental railroads, masterminded acquisition campaigns decades before merger mania became a byword on Wall Street, guided fearful nations through market panics, and otherwise left their mark on the New World and Old. The author recounts how passage of the Glass-Steagall Act by Congress during the Great Depression brought the disruptive rigors of competition to the clubby, relationship-oriented world of banking. Chernow also documents the advances in communications technology and regulatory policy that put investment intelligence within reach of all comers; these latter developments led directly to the profusion of mutual funds, which manage the billions of dollars anted up by individual investors. While today's institutional avatars may be a more cautious, risk-averse breed than their colorful predecessors, that may be in part, the author suggests, because they are subject to the pitiless collective judgments of a global marketplace that puts precious little premium on living by one's wits. If Chernow provides no breakthrough perspectives to arrest the attention of professionals, he delivers a sound, accessible account of the forces shaping capital, credit, currency, and securities markets on the eve of a new millennium.