Griftopia: A Story of Bankers, Politicians, and the Most Audacious Power Grab in American History

Griftopia: A Story of Bankers, Politicians, and the Most Audacious Power Grab in American History

by Matt Taibbi
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Griftopia: A Story of Bankers, Politicians, and the Most Audacious Power Grab in American History by Matt Taibbi

A brilliantly illuminating and darkly comic tale of the ongoing financial and political crisis in America
The financial crisis that exploded in 2008 isn’t past but prologue. The grifter class—made up of the largest players in the financial industry and the politicians who do their bidding—has been growing in power, and the crisis was only one terrifying manifestation of how they’ve hijacked America’s political and economic life.

Matt Taibbi has combined deep sources, trailblazing reportage, and provocative analysis to create the most lucid, emotionally galvanizing account yet written of this ongoing American crisis. He offers fresh reporting on the backroom deals of the bailout; tells the story of Goldman Sachs, the “vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity”; and uncovers the hidden commodities bubble that transferred billions of dollars to Wall Street while creating food shortages around the world.

This is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the labyrinthine inner workings of this country, and the profound consequences for us all.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780385529969
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/06/2011
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 363,778
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Matt Taibbi is a contributing editor for Rolling Stone and the author of four previous books, including the New York Times bestseller The Great Derangement. He lives in Jersey City, New Jersey. 

Read an Excerpt


The Grifter Archipelago;

or, Why the Tea Party

Doesn't Matter

"Mr Chairman, delegates, and fellow citizens ."

The roar of the crowd is deafening Arms flailing spastically as the crowd pushes and shoves in violent excitement, I manage to scribble in my notebook: Place going absolutely apeshit?

It's September 3, 2008 I'm at the Xcel Center in St Paul, Minnesota, listening to the acceptance speech by the new Republican vice- presidential nominee, Sarah Palin The speech is the emotional climax of the entire 2008 presidential campaign, a campaign marked by bouts of rage and incoherent tribalism on both sides of the aisle After eighteen long months covering this dreary business, the whole campaign appears in my mind's eye as one long, protracted scratch-fight over Internet-fueled nonsense.

Like most reporters, I've had to expend all the energy I have just keeping track of who compared whom to Bob Dole, whose minister got caught griping about America on tape, who sent a picture of whom in African ceremonial garb to Matt Drudge and because of this I've made it all the way to this historic Palin speech tonight not having the faintest idea that within two weeks from this evening, the American economy will implode in the worst financial disaster since the Great Depression.

Like most Americans, I don't know a damn thing about high finance The rumblings of financial doom have been sounding for months now-the first half of 2008 had already seen the death of Bear Stearns, one of America's top five investment banks, and a second, Lehman Brothers, had lost 73 percent of its value in the first six months of the year and was less than two weeks away from a bankruptcy that would trigger the worldwide crisis Within the same two-week time frame, a third top- five investment bank, Merrill Lynch, would sink to the bottom alongside Lehman Brothers thanks to a hole blown in its side by years of reckless gambling debts; Merrill would be swallowed up in a shady state-aided backroom shotgun wedding to Bank of America that would never become anything like a major issue in this presidential race The root cause of all of these disasters was the unraveling of a massive Ponzi scheme centered around the American real estate market, a huge bubble of investment fraud that floated the American economy for the better part of a decade Take it as a powerful indictment of American journalism that I'm far from alone in this among the campaign press corps charged with covering the 2008 election None of us understands this shit We're all way too busy watching to make sure X candidate keeps his hand over his heart during the Pledge of Allegiance, and Y candidate goes to church as often as he says he does, and so on.

Just looking at Palin up on the podium doesn't impress me She looks like a chief flight attendant on a Piedmont flight from Winston-Salem to Cleveland, with only the bag of almonds and the polyester kerchief missing from the picture With the Junior Anti-Sex League rimless glasses and a half updo with a Bumpit she comes across like she's wearing a cheap Halloween getup McCain's vice-presidential search party bought in a bag at Walgreens after midnight-?four-piece costume, Pissed-Off White Suburban Female, $19.99 plus tax.

Just going by the crude sportswriter-think that can get any campaign journalist through a whole presidential race from start to finish if he feels like winging it, my initial conclusion here is that John McCain is desperate and he's taking one last heave at the end zone by serving up this overmatched electoral gimmick in a ploy for . . . what? Women? Extra-horny older married men? Frequent Piedmont fliers?

I'm not sure what the endgame is here, but just going by the

McCain campaign's hilariously maladroit strategic performance so far, it can't be very sophisticated So I figure I'll catch a little of this cookie-cutter political stump act, snatch a few quotes for my magazine piece, then boogie to the exits and grab a cheesesteak on the way back to the hotel But will my car still be there when I get out? That's where my head is at, as Sarah Palin begins her speech.

Then I start listening.

She starts off reading her credentials She's got the kid and nephew in uniform-check Troop of milk-fed patriotic kiddies with Hallmark Channel names (a Bristol, a Willow, and a Piper, a rare Martin Mull-

caliber whiteness trifecta)-check Mute macho husband on a snow machine- check This is all standard-issue campaign decoration so far, but then she starts in with this thing about Harry Truman:

My parents are here tonight, and I am so proud to be the daughter of Chuck and Sally Heath Long ago, a young farmer and haberdasher from Missouri followed an unlikely path to the vice presidency.

A writer observed: "We grow good people in our small towns, with honesty, sincerity, and dignity." I know just the kind of people that writer had in mind when he praised Harry Truman.

I grew up with those people.

They are the ones who do some of the hardest work in America, who grow our food, run our factories, and fight our wars.

They love their country, in good times and bad, and they're always proud of America I had the privilege of living most of my life in a small town.

I'm on the floor for the speech-stuck in the middle of a bunch of delegates from, I believe, Colorado-and at the line "They are the ones who do some of the hardest work," the section explodes in cheers.

I look back up at Palin and she has a bit of a confident grin on her face now Not quite a smirk, that would be unfair to say, but she's oozing confidence after delivering these loaded lines From now through the end of her speech there will be a definite edge to her voice, an edge that also fills the air of this building.

Before I have any chance of noticing it she's moved beyond the speaking part of the program and is suddenly, effortlessly, deep into the signaling process, a place most politicians only reach with great effort, and clumsily, if at all But Palin is the opposite of clumsy: she's in the dog-whistle portion of the speech and doing triple lutzes and backflips.

She starts talking about her experience as mayor of Wasilla, Alaska:

I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a "community organizer," except that you have actual responsibilities I might add that in small towns, we don't quite know what to make of a candidate who lavishes praise on working people when they are listening and then talks about how bitterly they cling to their religion and guns when those people aren't listening.

We tend to prefer candidates who don't talk about us one way in Scranton and another way in San Francisco.

The TV talking heads here will surely focus on the insult to Barack Obama and will miss the far more important part of this speech-the fact that Palin has moved from talking about small-town folks as They a few seconds ago to We now-We don't know what to make of this, We prefer this It doesn't take a whole lot of thought to figure out who this We is Certainly, to those listening, if you're part of this We, you know If you're not part of it, as I'm not, you know even more.

Sarah Palin's We is a very unusual character to make an appearance in a national presidential campaign, where candidates almost to the last tend to scrupulously avoid any hint that they are not talking to all Americans Inclusiveness, telegenic warmth, and inoffensiveness are the usual currency of national-campaign candidates Say as little as possible, hope some of the undecideds like your teeth better than the other guy's-that's usually the way this business works.

But Palin, boldly, has tossed all that aside: she is making an impassioned bunker speech to a highly self-aware We that defines itself by the enemies surrounding it, enemies Palin is by now haughtily rattling off one by one in this increasingly brazen and inspired address.

She's already gone after the "experts" and "pollsters and pundits" who dismissed McCain, the "community organizer" Obama, even the city of San Francisco (We are more likely to live in Scranton), but the more important bit came with the line about how people in small towns are the ones who "do some of the hardest work." The cheer at that line was one of recognition, because what Palin is clearly talking about there are the people this crowd thinks don't do "the hardest work," don't fight our wars, don't love our country.

And We know who They are.

What Palin is doing is nothing new It's a virtual copy of Dick Nixon's "forgotten Americans" gambit targeting the so-called silent

majority-the poor and middle-class suburban (and especially southern) whites who had stayed on the sidelines during the sixties culture wars That strategy won Nixon the election against Humphrey by stealing the South away from the Democrats and has been the cornerstone of Republican electoral planning ever since.

The strategy of stoking exurban white resentment against encroaching immigration, against the disappearance of old values, against pop- culture glitz, against government power, it all worked so well for the Republicans over the years that even Hillary Clinton borrowed it in her primary race against Obama.

Now Palin's We in St Paul is, in substance, no different from anything that half a dozen politicians before her have come up with But neither Nixon nor Hillary nor even Ronald Reagan-whose natural goofball cheerfulness blunted his ability to whip up divisive mobs-had ever executed this message with the political skill and magnetism of this suddenly metamorphosed Piedmont flight attendant at the Xcel Center lectern.

Being in the building with Palin that night is a transformative and oddly unsettling experience It's a little like having live cave-level access for the ripping-the-heart-out-with-the-bare-hands scene in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom A scary-as-hell situation: thousands of pudgy Midwestern conservatives worshipping at the Altar of the Economic Producer, led by a charismatic arch-priestess letting lose a grade-A war cry The clear subtext of Palin's speech is this: other politicians only talk about fighting these assholes, I actually will.

Palin is talking to voters whose country is despised internationally, no longer an industrial manufacturing power, fast becoming an economic vassal to the Chinese and the Saudis, and just a week away from an almost-total financial collapse Nobody here is likely to genuinely believe a speech that promises better things.

But cultural civil war, you have that no matter how fucking broke you are And if you want that, I, Sarah Palin, can give it to you It's a powerful, galvanizing speech, but the strange thing about it is its seeming lack of electoral calculation It's a transparent attempt to mass-

market militancy and frustration, consolidate the group identity of an aggrieved demographic, and work that crowd up into a lather This represents a further degrading of the already degraded electoral process Now, not only are the long-term results of elections irrelevant, but for a new set of players like Palin, the outcome of the election itself is irrelevant This speech wasn't designed to win a general election, it was designed to introduce a new celebrity, a make- believe servant of the people so phony that later in her new career she will not even bother to hold an elective office.

The speech was a tremendous success On my way out of the building I'm stuck behind a pair of delegates who are joyously rehashing Palin's money quotes:

BUTT-HEAD: You know what they say the difference is between a hockey mom and a pit bull?


BUTT-HEAD: No, I mean, you remember?

BEAVIS: Oh, yeah!

BUTT-HEAD: She's like, "Lipstick!"

BEAVIS: Yeah, lipstick! (both explode in laughter)

I reach out and tap one of them on the shoulder.

"Hey," I say "Can I ask you two what you think Sarah Palin will actually accomplish, if she gets elected?"

Beavis stares at me "I think she's gonna take America back,"

he says.

Getting this kind of answer on campaign jaunts is like asking someone why they like Pepsi and having them answer, "Because I believe it's the choice of a new generation."

"Yeah, okay," I say "But what actual policies do you want her to enact, or what laws do you think she's going to pass?"

They both frown and glance down at my press pass, and I realize instantly the game is up I'm not part of the We Butt-Head steps forward in a defensive posture, shielding his buddy from the liberal- media Ausländer.

"Wait a minute," he says "Who do you work for, exactly?"

The big difference between America and the third world: in America, our leaders put on a hell of a show for us voters, while in the third world, the bulk of the population gets squat In the third world, most people know where they stand and don't have any illusions about it.

Maybe they get a parade every now and then, get to wave at shock troops carrying order colors in an eyes-right salute Or maybe, if they're lucky, the leader will spring for a piece of mainstream entertainment-he'll host a heavyweight title fight at the local Palace of Beheading Something that puts the country on the map, cheers the national mood, distracts folks from their status as barefoot scrapers of the bottom of the international capitalist barrel.

But mostly your third-world schmuck gets the shaft He gets to live in dusty, unpaved dumps, eat expired food, scratch and claw his way to an old enough age to reproduce, and then die unnecessarily of industrial accidents, malnutrition, or some long-forgotten disease of antiquity Meanwhile, drawing upon the collective whole-life economic output of this worthy fellow and 47 million of his fellow citizens, the leader and about eighteen of his luckiest friends get to live in villas in Ibiza or the south of France, with enough money for a couple of impressive-looking ocean cruisers and a couple dozen sports cars.

We get more than that in America We get a beautifully choreographed eighteen-month entertainment put on once every four years, a beast called the presidential election that engrosses the population to the point of obsession This ongoing drama allows everyone to subsume their hopes and dreams for the future into one all-out, all-or-nothing battle for the White House, a big alabaster symbol of power we see on television a lot Who wins and who loses this contest is a matter of utmost importance to a hell of a lot of people in this country.

But why it's so important to them is one of the great unexplored mysteries of our time It's a mystery rooted in the central, horrifying truth about our national politics.

Which is this: none of it really matters to us The presidential election is a drama that we Americans have learned to wholly consume as entertainment, divorced completely from any expectations about concrete changes in our own lives For the vast majority of people who follow national elections in this country, the payoff they're looking for when they campaign for this or that political figure is that warm and fuzzy feeling you get when the home team wins the big game Or, more importantly, when a hated rival loses Their stake in the electoral game isn't a citizen's interest, but a rooting interest.

Voters who throw their emotional weight into elections they know deep down inside won't produce real change in their lives are also indulging in a find of fantasy That's why voters still dream of politicians whose primary goal is to effectively govern and maintain a thriving first world society with great international ambitions What voters don't realize, or don't want to realize, is that that dream was abandoned long ago by his country's leaders, who know the more prosaic reality and are looking beyond the fantasy, into the future, at an America plummeted into third world status.

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Griftopia 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 171 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was eagerly looking forward to Matt's new book after reading his work in Rolling Stone. Matt pulls no punches in the book and spotlights why our country is going down the drain. A terrific read - if you want to really understand the gang who put the economy where it is.
grantcv1 More than 1 year ago
This book should be required reading for every American before they cast another vote. We're a people being exploited by the most unscrupulous master criminals of all time. We at least should understand the crimes we are allowing ourselves to be the victim of. Perhaps then we might take our votes more seriously and bring an end to the massive con job that we are unknowingly supporting.
yellowdogDL More than 1 year ago
This book tells why we had the housing crisis and those involved in creating it. Matt Taibbi gives us an up-close and personal look at the crisis that was caused by greed and out-right criminal activity. If you want to know why we are in the mess we are in, then this is a book that must be read.
persistentreason More than 1 year ago
One of the most thoughtful and engaging books of the year. If you are interested in the machine that has driven the United States into the "Great Recession" this book is it! Matt Taibbi explains Wall Street antics in everyday terms that everyone can and should understand. If you have a child you owe it to them to read this book. By the time you are finished you will be able to explain Wall Street rip-off's, economic bubbles, and why you just paid over $4.00 for a gallon of gas a few years back (you will even know who to send your thank you letter to). Wall Street should be wrapped in crime tape. Are we going to stay ignorant? Will our children pay for our generations continued ignorance? READ THE BOOK....
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Although it seems to indicate its disdain for Ayn Rand's Objectionist concept, especially with regard to being a driving fundamental for Alan Greenspan and his obvious power grab at history, Griftopia seems to travel the spectrum of it's contempt for government/banking cronyism, and the extent it is continuing to drag on our economy, a central theme of Rand's philosophy. I view this as an agreement with the principles of self interest, and the pure absolution of the idea that one "Political Party" can do better than the other, or that they care to. Or that anyone in government can be trusted to resolve the underlying issue of this moment in time that has forever changed American Society, Grift. Defined as acquiring money or wealth ILLICITLY, grift takes the left and the right, the REPUBLICAN and the DEMOCRAT and says "We the people, of these United States of America GOT SCREWED, and since we're not going to do anything about it, then shame on all of us. We should care enough to do ANYTHING about it. Griftopia tells you why you should be upset, who it is that you should want to see in jail, and is simply stating with as much encouragement as possible for the reader to GET UP OFF YOUR BEHIND AND DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. Griftopia accomplishes this without stating a political motive, only that as individuals, that I assume want success and prosperity for ourselves, that we would care enough that these financial swindlers took advantage of America, and almost no one has paid us back with the speed and level of effectiveness to which the government responded to their's time for these criminals of all ilks to ante up.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great book!
AdamJay More than 1 year ago
a quick read considering the amount of information contained within. Taibbi lays out heist after heist that is the great swindle thanks to Randian ideology.
BrianAndJenniKing More than 1 year ago
Excellent read. Worth the money. Funny writing style and great ability to put complex financial transactions in lay mans terms
edward brasseur More than 1 year ago
a brilliant book that should be required reading for all americans.
sleblanc1976 More than 1 year ago
The author has an ability to easily break complex financial transactions and strip them down so they are easy to understand. It is also a written in a style that is easy to read and will make you laugh from time to time. Highly reccomended
Mkubi19 More than 1 year ago
this is going to be a great read, after his first book the derangement, he can do no wrong, Matt is a very gifted writer who tells it how it is without second guessing himself, cannot wait to dive into this NEW book!
Eric Nowlin More than 1 year ago
It is a fairly unbiased account of the financial disaster. The author seems driven to attribute the whole disaster to Goldman Sachs firm of banking; while clearly biased, he makes a compelling argument. His writing style is EXTREMELY GOOD. The best metaphors that I have read in at least a year. The substantive information agrees with what I have read in the past.
Hank_Chinaski More than 1 year ago
This book lays the financial meltdown that totally wrecked the American economy on its back. Taibbi presents these complicated schemes that were created, exploited, and ultimately pull-offed with magician-like-ease by a handful of giant a-holes with clarity. The book insightfully covers the single biggest scam that America has ever ignored...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anyone know the diagrams/video for that scorpion?
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Those who are paying attention will see a lot of what they already know in this well written and fun book. Well researched and written in an easily accessible style,it will remind those who know and educate those who do not, what is going on in this country.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Matt Taibbi manages to offend everyone as he peels back the layers to expose the nature of America's bleeding wound. A must read if todays political insanity makes no sense to you, but prepare yourself for an utterly depressing diagnosis. No action plan to correct "Griftopia" is given.
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1944 More than 1 year ago
This is a book most should really tells it like it is..rather good bad or in between there is greed going on in our world. I just wonder what our founding Fathers would think of the corruption/money hungry individuals that think they deserve everything and anyone under their tier of living doesn't really matter.. I didn't really learn much new, but it sure reinforces the goings on in America
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