Monday, October 26, 2009

Andrew Ross Sorkin's Too Big To Fail

I haven't read Andrew Ross Sorkin's new book, Too Big To Fail. Jamie Dimon showed up at his book party. Nuff said.

But Bob Murphy points me to Arnold Kling comments about the book:

In spite of Sorkin's low level of economic literacy...his book is worth reading. He is an outstanding storyteller--I could not put it down until I finished. Moreover, the lack of economic insight is more than made up for by the sociological insight that one obtains from Sorkin's details. He never misses a chance to describe what the financial titans were eating, how their offices were decorated, which brand of car they rode in, how they obtained last-minute air transportation, or the foul language they were using...

The obvious sociological point is that the top finance people live in a bubble, with secret entrances, isolated offices, chauffered automobiles, and private jets. Even the top government officials inhabit this world. Sorkin describes Geithner arriving at the airport in DC and losing it over not being met by a driver. Forced to take a taxi, Geithner turns to his colleague and says that he has no cash. Perhaps this would have been a moment to teach the head of the New York Fed how to use an ATM.

Sorkin managed to make me feel some sympathy for Henry Paulson, the earthy control freak. Annoyed that SEC Chairman Cox had not undertaken a task that Paulson had wanted, we hear:

"I don't want to be left here holding Herman," the Treasury secretary said, glancing at his zipper in case the joke wasn't clear...

In Sorkin's telling, Geithner and Paulson are the deal-making heavies. Bernanke makes cameo appearances to utter professorial remarks, but otherwise seems like a non-player.

I do not see how reading this book can help but reinforce a Simon Johnson/James Kwak view of Washington captured by Wall Street. Paulson seems to have no use for anyone who is not a Goldman Sachs alumnus. Geithner seems to have no use for anyone who is not a CEO of a large financial institution. Both of them view the collapse of major Wall Street firms as Armageddon.

The "regulatory overhaul" promised by the Obama Administration is still the same-old, same-old. Chauffered America will be restored to its exalted status, with a few new rules and regulations thrown in.

1 comment: