Trading Book Reviews

Book Review: Capital Offense

Focused on the array of personalities in and around the financial crisis.

[easyazon-link asin=”0470520671″][/easyazon-link]Another of the genre of books about the causes of the financial crisis that’s been been released of late is [easyazon-link asin=”0470520671″]Capital Offense[/easyazon-link] by Michael Hirsh, which I’ve recently finished reading. This is a book that focuses more on the broad array of personalities than the others I’ve read – in particular on the leading policy makers of the last couple decades. The authors primary cast of characters includes Milton Friedman, Alan Greenspan, Robert Rubin, Larry Summers, Joseph Stiglitz, with copious biographical information included for all of them.

I will readily admit that I’ve not been a student of economic history and as such don’t really know all that much about the individuals who have shaped it over the years. One of the things I found most interesting about this book was the discussion of how the economic philosophies of Milton Friedman and Alan Greenspan were developed and shaped.

The basic theme of Capital Offense is the growth then dominance of free market thinking in US and global policy making, starting most powerfully in the Reagan era and progressing right through the intervening administrations and into the Obama presidency. Hirsh points to Friedman as the leading initial force of this movement, but seems to be hesitant about actually blaming him for what he calls the free market zeitgeist that created the financial crisis. He is not, however, shy about placing that blame firmly on Alan Greenspan, Robert Rubin, and Larry Summers for their attitudes to regulation and actions to reduce its impact on the markets.

Interestingly, Stiglitz is portrayed as the hero of the period because he had it right in terms of seeing what was to come, but was generally marginalized when it came to actually being a part of the policy mechanism. My one little issue with that is the implication he’d have been able to get the policy right given the opportunity. Maybe he could have done. We just don’t know.

The author leaves us with a critical view of the Obama administration in how it features many of the same individuals who were integral in the way the free market mantra was so entrenched during the Clinton administration and how it’s missed opportunities to enact needed change to the financial system. He doesn’t leave the reader feeling very positive about future prospects.

Overall, I found Capital Offense a very informative and engaging read. I definitely recommend it to anyone looking to get a look at the underlying economic philosophies which brought us to the current point.

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