On the Bookshelf: Griftopia by Matt Taibbi
Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids
and the Long Con That is Breaking America
by Matt Taibbi
I am afraid. What am I afraid of, you ask? I am afraid that our country is out of control economically and politically. I am afraid that our leaders (and by that I mean anyone who holds a position of any sort of influence) are so short-sighted and uncaring about the larger picture and the long-term destination that is the focus of vision, that they can’t grasp this fact. I am afraid that even if they knew, they really wouldn’t care anyway because their ultimate goal is to take care of themselves, first and foremost, and everyone else is a very distant second if at all deserving of any consideration. In short, I am afraid that what Matt Taibbi writes about in Griftopia is true.
On the bailouts:
“We paid for this instead of a generation of health insurance, or an alternative energy grid, or a brand-new system of roads and highways. With the $13-plus trillion we are estimated to ultimately spend on the bailouts, we could not only have bought and paid off every single sub-prime mortgage in the country (that would only have cost $1.4 trillion), we could have paid off every remaining mortgage of any kind in this country — and still have had enough money left over to buy a new house for every American who does not already have one.
But we didn’t do that, and we didn’t spend the money on anything else useful, either. Why? For a very good reason. Because we’re no good anymore at building bridges and highways or coming up with brilliant innovations in energy or medicine. We’re shit now at finishing massive public works projects or launching brilliant fairy-tale public policy ventures like the moon landing.
What are we good at? Robbing what’s left. When it comes to that, we Americans have no peer. And when it came time to design the bailouts, a monster collective project spanning two presidential administrations that was every bit as vast and far-reaching (not only in the future but in the past) as Kennedy’s trip to the moon, we showed it.”
Griftopia is the story of the 2008 financial collapse as well as other financial absurdity as practiced by our modern-day Wall Street geniuses and local, state and national politicians. While all of it is thought-provoking and, at times, downright unbelievable, what makes it so impactful is the style in which it is told. In reading this book it would be easy to imagine sitting next to Taibbi in a dimly lit bar slowly working your way through a bottle of whiskey while he pulls back the curtain a bit on the financial industry revealing its underlying flaws and dirty little secrets. It also has the truthful ring of real journalism. While the facts themselves may be taken from certain points of view and may contain other possible biases of perspective, access and memory, you can tell that the author did his homework while researching this fiasco.
While Griftopia is great at describing the problems with our financial world what this book does not contain is a solution to the problem, and the problem still very much exists. The same people who nearly sent this country into depression are still in their jobs, still earning fat paychecks and collecting fatter bonuses. The politicians who enabled them are still accepting checks from the lobbyists. The laws still allow the deranged deals that created the mess. The taxpayers are on the hook for this disaster and, with precedent firmly in place, are potentially on the hook for the next, and they likely don’t even know it. I am generally optimistic when it comes to the innovative spirit of America, but it makes me pessimistic to realize that the wealth those innovations can and should create is likely to be sucked up by an unscrupulous financial industry who manipulates laws and puts regulators in their pockets. I am even more pessimistic that it won’t change, can’t change, without more pain and irreversible damage than the business of the country could possibly endure.