The Looting of America: How the Game of Fantasy Finance Destroyed Our Jobs, Pensions, and Prosperity, and What We Can Do About It

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How could the best and brightest (and most highly paid) in finance crash the global economy and then get us to bail them out as well? What caused this mess in the first place? Housing? Greed? Dumb politicians? What can Main Street do about it?

In The Looting of America, Leopold debunks the prevailing media myths that blame low-income home buyers who got in over their heads, people who ran up too much credit-card debt, and government interference with free markets. Instead, ...

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The Looting of America: How Wall Street's Game of Fantasy Finance Destroyed Our Jobs, Pensions, and Prosperity--and What We Can Do about It

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How could the best and brightest (and most highly paid) in finance crash the global economy and then get us to bail them out as well? What caused this mess in the first place? Housing? Greed? Dumb politicians? What can Main Street do about it?

In The Looting of America, Leopold debunks the prevailing media myths that blame low-income home buyers who got in over their heads, people who ran up too much credit-card debt, and government interference with free markets. Instead, readers will discover how Wall Street undermined itself and the rest of the economy by playing and losing at a highly lucrative and dangerous game of fantasy finance.

He also asks some tough questions:

  • Why did Americans let the gap between workers' wages and executive compensation grow so large?
  • Why did we fail to realize that the excess money in those executives' pockets was fueling casino-style investment schemes?
  • Why did we buy the notion that too-good-to-be-true financial products that no one could even understand would somehow form the backbone of America's new, postindustrial economy?
  • How do we make sure we never give our wages away to gamblers again?
  • And what can we do to get our money back?

In this page-turning narrative (no background in finance required) Leopold tells the story of how we fell victim to Wall Street's exotic financial products. Readers learn how even school districts were taken in by "innovative" products like collateralized debt obligations, better known as CDOs, and how they sucked trillions of dollars from the global economy when they failed. They'll also learn what average Americans can do to ensure that fantasy finance never rules our economy again.

As the country teeters on the brink of what could be the next Great Depression, we should be especially wary of the so-called financial experts who got us here, and then conveniently got themselves out. So far, it appears they've won the battle, but The Looting of America refuses to let them write the history--or plan its aftermath.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Because the financial collapse was built on with so many intricate scams, regular Americans often find themselves intimidated by the sheer complexity. But at bottom, it was a case of insiders taking advantage. Les Leopold has performed a virtuoso service by explaining the economic mess in terms that ordinary people can grasp, in this wonderful and terrifying book."--Robert Kuttner, co-editor of The American Prospect and author of Obama's Challenge

Publishers Weekly
Deeming himself the "Main Streeter" to explain the economic crisis to average Americans, author and researcher Leopold (The Men Who Hated Work and Loved Labor) does a cagey job explaining credit derivative obligations (CDOs), and their role in the financial meltdown, in populist terms. Unfortunately, his folksy presentation is grating at best and condescending at worst; in one egregious example, his analogy between "fantasy finance" and "fantasy football" is not just patronizing, but obscures his meaning. Still, his astute arguments make it clear that the blame earned by Wall Street and (to some degree) the government has been displaced onto ordinary Americans. Yet, he proves just as partisan as his opponents in painting free market crusaders as remorseless villains. Hamhanded solutions (described in terms of how much Wall Street will dislike them) read like a wish list for the Democratic party: financial disaster insurance, wage caps for CEOs, more unionizing, increasing real wages and nationalizing student loans among them. Whether any of these solutions are politically or economically feasible gets cursory attention. A standard muckraking explication of America's financial hole, this report should resonate with those already on Leopold's side.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Leopold (founding director, Labor Inst. & Public Health Inst.; The Man Who Hated Work and Loved Labor) spends much of this text providing an excellent "lemonade stand" explanation of the history and mechanics of the various mortgage-related securities and their derivatives that have come under scrutiny as a result of the current financial crisis. Many readers will find the simplicity of this exercise a welcome parry to the mass media refrain that only the most highly trained Wall Street professionals can comprehend these financial instruments. The Whitefish Bay, WI, school board's foray into these unregulated markets supplies Leopold with a suitably disastrous example of how such securities and derivatives multiplied exponentially the losses resulting from the mortgage default surge that began in 2007. VERDICT Leopold uses the Whitefish Bay study to good effect. Although he doesn't fulfill the promise of the subtitle in any special way, his clear and basic explanations will at least help readers understand the financial jargon bandied about so readily over the last couple of years.—Steve Wilson, Dayton Metro Lib., Dayton

—Steve Wilson
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781603582056
  • Publisher: Chelsea Green Publishing
  • Publication date: 6/2/2009
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 964,502
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

After attending Oberlin College and Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs (MPA 1975), Les cofounded and currently directs two non-profit educational organizations: The Labor Institute (1976) and the Public Health Institute (1986). He designs research and educational programs on occupational safety and health, the environment and economics. He is now helping to form an alliance between the United Steel Workers Union and the Sierra Club. He is the author of The Man Who Hated Work and Loved Labor (2007), and The Looting of America (2009).

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Table of Contents

1. The hooking of Whitefish Bay
2. The iron law of fantasy finance
3. Is there a dime's bit of difference between Wall Street's "innovation" and gambling?
4. Learning and unlearning the lessons of the Great Depression
5. The oracle blesses derivatives, the newest game in the casino
6. Getting the story backwards
7. Financial weapons of mass destruction
8. Fantasy finance meets reality: the great crash of 2008
9. The end of fantasy finance?
10. Proposals Wall Street won't like
11. Proposals Wall Street really won't like

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 4 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 3, 2010

    Blatantly Dishonest

    Buyer beware. Les Leopold isn't trying to honestly explain to you how derivitives work, and why they blew up. He has an agenda, a strong set of political beliefs and goals, and is willing to bend the facts to foist them off on you. If you want objectivity, or even hewing to the facts, go somewhere else. You will be disappointed here.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 4, 2009

    The best explanation of what Wall Street did that led to the Crash of 2008

    Les Leopold presents the clearest explanation of all the machinations that Wall Street engaged in during the past 10 - 15 years. He describes how these 'Financial Instruments' developed and why they were the underlying cause of the Crash of '08.
    But he does this in a real world context by explaining how this affected regular people all over the world. He puts Wall Street's activities into a greater political and economic historic context that describes the origins of the Stock Market. He even explains how the use of 'interest' began. He provides an understanding of how the history of the past 400 years led to these 'ups and downs' in the Stock Market.
    He presents this analysis and story in very readable terms that any of us can understand.
    This is a book that should be read by groups of people who not only want to understand why the Crash happened but also want to prevent it from happening in the future. This book deserves study, analysis and discussion among all working people.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 31, 2009

    Excellent read for understanding financial machinations

    The best book I have seen for describing the financial instruments that helped bring down the economy which are explained in an understandable way.
    Author tells the story of how investors got taken in by these instruments and makes solid recommendations for addressing the problem of "fantasy finance."

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 5, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Required Reading

    If you want the basics; this book delivers. The basics, are in this case, anything but basic given the sheer complexity by which America's system of Capital Goods and Services has devolved into a Plutocracy. Les Leopold, an English professor, explains what gradually materialized starting with "Reaganomics" continuing through Administrations and Legislatures governed by both Democrats and Republicans. He explains how difficult it will be to dislodge a systemic pathogen unless we become media literate and gain a firm understanding of cultural norms. This book should be required reading for all sophmore high school students, both those enrolled in academic and vocational studies; as each and every commoner is grossly effected by these polemical underpinnings. An international fiefdom based on native soil is definitely not what Thomas Jefferson had in mind when he envisioned the America-to-be. "The Looting of America" is a book of necessity to read at daylight if we are to recapture the freedom that once flowed from the Conshohockon valley via the Schuylkill River rail corridor.

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