Book Review: Popes and Bankers by Jack Cashill


Here’s a book that really isn’t about trading, but may be of interest to those who like history and/or are interested in how we got to the point we are at today having gone through a nasty financial crisis. Actually, fundamental traders may get some use out of it in terms of learning some things to look for in their analysis. The book is Popes and Bankers: A Cultural History of Credit and Debt, from Aristotle to AIG by Jack Cashill. I just finished it, having made it my commute reading over the last couple of weeks.

My impression of this book is that it is a history lesson combined with a morality statement. The author goes back through history to show how we reached the modern view, particularly in the US, toward banking and borrowing, and demonstrate that recent events in the financial markets and economy are most definitely nothing new. Wrapped around the history he seems to be making a statement that we need to return to traditional Christian morality where debt and lending are concerned. I’m not sure if he’s quite advocating a return to the “lending at interest is usury and thus a sin” view of things or a somewhat toned down “neither a borrower nor a lender be” recommendation is unclear. His discussion as to the interpretation of biblical texts by both Jews and Christians over the years doesn’t really come to a conclusion as to where the right point on the spectrum should be. Similarly, his discussion of anti-Semitism over the centuries, generally as related to the usury question, leaves one wondering whether the author himself is expressing a personal anti-Semitic view.

That aside, the author does do a pretty good job of highlighting the array of disparate elements which contributed to the financial crises (and how others like it came about in the past). He demonstrates a decidedly conservative bent in attacking those individuals who took out loans they clearly could not afford and those in the media and elsewhere who see them as victims. At the same time, however, he does not hesitate to highlight the failures in government and the financial sector as well. It is one of the more even-handed discussions of the subject I have come across thus far.

For me the bottom line with this book is that it’s a good history lesson, with a moral view intertwined that’s never really clearly defined.


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About the Author
John Forman, author of this blog, has traded for more than 20 years, is a professional market analyst, and authored The Essentials of Trading. He is an active participant in trading forums, consults for trading related businesses, as published literally dozens of trading articles, and has been quoted in a number of books and in the media.
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