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Capital Offense: How Washington's Wise Men Turned America's Future Over to Wall Street

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"To understand the slow, steady shift of power from Washington to Wall Street, you have to connect the dots year by year, across decades. For that you need a seasoned veteran like Mike Hirsh, who has used deep sourcing, a long memory, and his razor-sharp critical sensibilities to show how the tide slowly turned from public good to private gain. In this amazing book, Hirsh shows definitively how Wall Street won and America lost."
?Ron Suskind, ...

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Overview

Advance Praise for Capital Offense

"To understand the slow, steady shift of power from Washington to Wall Street, you have to connect the dots year by year, across decades. For that you need a seasoned veteran like Mike Hirsh, who has used deep sourcing, a long memory, and his razor-sharp critical sensibilities to show how the tide slowly turned from public good to private gain. In this amazing book, Hirsh shows definitively how Wall Street won and America lost."
—Ron Suskind, author of The Way of the World

"In this brilliantly crafted narrative, Hirsh pins the financial crisis on the hubris of key economic policymakers in Washington who, through a mix of training, background, and philosophy, allowed themselves to be persuaded that the less regulation of Wall Street, the better. Balanced? Not necessarily. Fascinating? Definitely."
—Kenneth Rogoff, coauthor of This Time Is Different

"In this riveting narrative, Michael Hirsh shows how the road to the Great Recession of 2008–2010 was paved with mistaken assumptions, sleepy regulators, hubris, misplaced faith in markets—and that we may be headed down the same road again. Hirsh is masterful at weaving economics, politics, and personalities into a great story that illuminates how we got here and how we must act to avoid the next crisis."
—Steve Weisman, author of The Great Tax Wars

"A vivid, insider account of how elite policymakers became intellectual hostages to free market fundamentalism and set about giving Wall Street the keys to the global economy. Michael Hirsh draws on firsthand knowledge of Washington's elite to describe the ideological and personality struggles that gave 'free market' fundamentalism a Stalinist stranglehold over policy. A deft account of how men who should have known better wrecked the economy."
—Yves Smith, author of ECONned

"This is a fascinating inside account of the political dynamics and personalities of the crew who wrecked the economy. Remarkably, as Capital Offense points out, the same group is still calling the shots today, which makes people very concerned."
—Dean Baker, author of False Profits

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Editorial Reviews

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I came upon this book by accident. Bombarded daily by financial news, I hadn't planned to read anything longer than an extended article on the recession and its causes. Reading about economic disaster just didn't seem like a topic I'd like to be perusing right before bed. Michael Hirsh's Capital Offense quickly changed my mind. Just the first chapter about a thwarted female whistleblower who spotted "the hippopotamus under the rug" early on got me hooked. The book does a fine job of explaining how free-market ideologies, crony capitalism, and mass society myopia managed to create that morbidly obese hippo: By 2008, the derivatives market was theoretically "worth" $600 trillion. (By comparison, the entire U.S. economy was worth $14 trillion.) Hirsh's critiques cut across party lines and he pays due tribute to economists, politicians, and CEOs were trying honestly (if not always competently) to sort things out. All in all, I can honestly say that Capital Offense only made me lose sleep in one of the best possible ways. —R.J. Wilson, Bookseller, New York NY

Publishers Weekly
There's plenty of blame to spread around for the Great Recession: Wall Street, government regulators, mortgage lenders, and sub-prime borrowers have all, at various times, been held responsible. In Michael Hirsh's view, however, the real culprits are the free-marketeers – economic theorists such as Milton Friedman and Treasury chairmen Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke – who placed excessive faith in the self-correcting powers of unfettered markets and failed to anticipate the imminent crisis. Hirsh's understanding of the philosophical and political origins of the credit crunch is considerably broader and deeper than those of most reporters, who merely recount Wall Street's recent failures. Still, it's difficult to directly tie economists and politicians to the mortgage bubble. Milton Friedman's free market principles may have led Ronald Reagan to repeal Glass-Steagall provisions, fomenting the crisis, but regulation alone wasn't responsible for unscrupulous and irresponsible lending or exponential growth in the derivatives market. Still, Hirsh's perspective is valuable, and he acknowledges nuances frequently ignored by others, such as the gender of Washington's derivatives regulator, Brooksley Born, a rare woman among men and thus a "lightweight" to be ignored by swaggering Wall Street veterans like Robert Rubin and Lawrence Summers, who regarded her cautionary pleas for regulation as a failure of machismo. (Sept.)
Michiko Kakutani
Capital Offense does a highly informed, if decidedly opinionated, job of situating these developments within a historical context, and the book makes for useful and succinct reading at a time when the state of the economy—and President Obama's handling of the recession—are being vociferously debated in Washington and around the country.
—The New York Times
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780470520673
  • Publisher: Wiley, John & Sons, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 9/14/2010
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

MICHAEL HIRSH is Newsweek's National Economics Correspondent. He has covered international affairs for more than two decades, from several continents, and now writes an online column entitled "The World from Washington." His 2003 cover story, "Bush's $87 Billion Mess," was one of three that earned Newsweek the 2004 National Magazine Award for General Excellence.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments

Prologue: The Hippopotamus under the Rug 1

1 The Most Certain Man in the World 29

2 Triumph 51

3 The Stealth Ideologue 67

4 The Rise of Rubinomics 85

5 Larry and Joe 103

6 Portrait of a Contrarian 123

7 Children of the Boom 141

8 The High Tide of Hubris 167

9 The Last Guy at the Alamo 185

10 Reaganites Redux 201

11 The Canary in the Mine 209

12 The King of the Street 219

13 Last Gathering of the Faithful 229

14 Blown Away 243

15 Geithner Cleans Up (with Bernanke at His Back) 269

16 Too Big to Jail 289

17 Larry and Joe (Again) 305

Notes 323

Index 329

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