I just finished listening to the audio version of Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World. It is advertised as a humorous account of the author’s experiences researching the financial crisis of 2007 to the present.
I must admit that I have read very little about the financial crisis of that time period, but my general impression was that the United States had some very sketchy financial practices which very nearly took down the entire world economy. While there was some truth to that, there was also a lot of really imprudent happenings around the globe.
Michael Lewis, a financial journalist with a long string of best sellers, starts his account in Iceland where the global financial crisis bankrupt an entire nation. He talks to individuals who are coping with the aftermath. He also touches on the national character that led them to such a mess. It reminds me about the internet bubble where everyone thought that they were a savvy investor, because everything was moving up. A small number of Icelanders took advantage of cheap credit and created their own bubble.
Michael then goes to Greece, that has been making a lot of headlines these days. The characters he talks to are fascinating, including a group of savvy monks that bartered themselves up from being ancient owners of an obscure lake to being billionaires. The cautionary note is to be careful to whom you confess your sins.
Ireland is the next stop where we find that cheap credit caused a property development boom that was entirely unsustainable. The government, in trying to prevent a popping of that bubble, also guaranteed the loans made by their banks. The resulting burden to Ireland’s taxpayer was awesome but also accepted in a good-natured manner.
Next Michael visits Germany. This stalwart financial bastion of hard work and prudence played the moronic straight man to America’s sub-prime loan escapades. Michael tries to explain the national mindset that led to such a seemingly unexpected break from character. He makes the point for a national anal (in both senses of the word) fetish with all things scatological. The pristine exterior of the national character, hid a fascination with some very “dirty” financial dealings. Caution: the language here is a bit strong at times.
Lastly Michael visits the good old U. S of A where he looks at how the crisis affected the States and municipalities. There is an interesting visit with the former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, where we learn a few things, such as that his jumping into the race for governor was apparently a last minute gag on Leno. The trip through the ravaged financial landscape goes through San Jose, and then to Vallejo, where the burden of government employee pensions is so great the entire government has ground to nearly stopped.
In all this was more of a financial travelogue that entertains while it educates. The strong language is fortunately localized and not persuasive, but you need to be careful if you are going to play the audio in the car with the family. The actor that read my version sounded a little like Jim Gaffigan, whom I call the bacon comic. It makes me want to explore more about the financial crisis and read more or Michael Lewis’ books.