A revisionist history of financial collapses in the United States radiating to other parts of the globe, with implications for what really caused the ongoing economic meltdown.
Nelson (Steel Drivin' Man: John Henry: the Untold Story of an American Legend, 2006, etc.) is a professional historian with a nonestablishment focus. The major problem with traditional historic accounts is that they diminish the role of ordinary citizens—i.e., debtors—while overplaying the roles of gigantic banking institutions. Though the economic declines documented here occurred long before the current mess, the author makes the case that each of those declines (in 1792, 1819, 1837, 1857, 1873, 1893 and 1929) share common factors and can teach important lessons for contemporary policymakers. Systemic declines would probably never occur if not for the huge numbers of individual consumers wanting material goods, spending beyond the realm of common sense and then defaulting on promised payments. What happens next rarely stops at national borders, with panics crossing oceans and continents throughout the international economy. Additional fallout includes the formation of new political parties or the rejuvenation of existing but moribund parties. One compelling example, ably delineated by Nelson, is the rise of Andrew Jackson to the presidency due to fallout from a financial disaster. This revisionist account is eminently readable, in large part because Nelson offers flesh-and-blood examples rather than relying on abstractions. He opens the book with the story of his father’s career as a repo man. In that job, he dealt with deadbeat consumers every working day, gaining an acute understanding of how widespread financial collapses begin at the community level.
A fascinating historical narrative, even if Nelson occasionally confuses cause and effect with correlation or even coincidence in some of his case studies.