Skip to main content

The object of this diary is to raise awareness of a really useful book that can help the general public understand the pronounced state of inequality in the US The book is Predator Nation, by Charles H Ferguson, subtitled Corporate Criminals, Political Corruption, and the Hijacking of America. It came out in 2012 under the Crown Business imprint at Random House.
    As a finance major well out of grad school, I've read more than my fair share of books about the finance industry and the economy. What strikes me as special about this book is that it has a very broad sweep, an excellent grasp of the key issues, and it is presented in such a way that one feels that one is looking at a very sharp X-ray of the financial system. Some people may know Ferguson from a movie, Inside Job, which the book jacket notes describe as a documentary about the financial crisis. He's written other books; I've only read this one. The one observation I'll make before the fold is: organizers should read this.

One of the difficulties any reviewer has is to walk the line between telling too much or too little about the book at hand  The theme of the book is not inequality per se. But so much of the book is an organized look at the way that corporations--especially large banks, financial companies, and their legal and lobbying associates--set about tilting the system so much in their own favor that one can not help to reach the conclusion (on their own)  that the nation is actually still in the process of having the system re-engineered away from being a democratic society.
      That implies that there still may be some time to change things, and we'll get to that in a later paragraph.
      For now, let's take a quick overview of some of the major financial events of the past few decades, as a reminder for the observations that deserve some mention:
      * 1970's  The oil crisis and very high inflation at the end of the decade;
      * 1980'   The stock market crash of 1987, and Japan's economic bubble in 1989;
      * 1990's  The boom, hedge fund expansion in 1998, and 1999 the dismemberment of the Glass-Steagall Act, which had put a "Chinese Wall" between bank lending and stock trading operations. (I personally know workers who took a bath when their bank shares plunged at retirement plans at banks where they had once worked.) The book recalls the role of Larry Summers in ending Glass-Steagall, which we will come back to later.
       * 2000's easy credit, until the 2007-2008 subprime mortgage mess led to large collapses.
        Ferguson looks at these events, in turn. It is worth noting how he of goes about it. This book does not purport to be an inside view of finance, of the page-turning novelistic yet still journalistic techniques of Liar's Poker, which was about the heyday of junk bonds. Ferguson's book jacket bio says he's a Ph.D. in political science from MIT, whose main interest is in technology policy. But it is not dull, policy-wonk stuff. Ferguson talks about events that anyone alive at the time experienced, and if they were too young, probably heard enough about it from their relatives and classes to be familiar with the broad outlines of the events. The language is plain and direct, but as you progress through the decades, one has to admire just how hard, and how often, Ferguson hits the nail on the head as to what the core issues are. There is a Euclidian conciseness about this approach. He is conversational, but this is a serious conversation, and, just as if you were a colleague who has traveled a long distance to be there for the conversation, Ferguson respects your time, and is intent on not wasting it.
      There are pros and cons to every book. Of necessity, no one author can go into detail about every financial crisis, and some will say that he left out this or that development, or they will disagree with his interpretation My point is that his presentation is very much worth listening to. Anyone who is an organizer in political life will find much to take away from this book, and in fact one hopes that people read this for Netroots Nation, Wellstone Action, and similar organizing groups. There is much of substance that undercuts the Trickle-Down Economics heresy that has acted as a tapeworm on the political system.
    My own list of highlights from the book, without stealing  the author's thunder, are as follows:
     * Undoing some of the worst parts of Deregulation remains a key political issue in reducing inequality in the country. Eg:


The structural concentration of the finance industry has consolidated into sharp oligopolies.  ( p.40)
   Recently, The blocking of deregulator Larry Summers to the Fed may mark a hopeful step towards restoring the firewalls of the Glass-Steagall Act. And to curing the Alzheimer's -like ignoring of the painful lessons of the maybe still Great Depression.
    * The brokerage firm Charles Schwab did a real service to the country by no-nonsense, due-diligence research into the real risks of many mortgage-backed securities during the sub-prime loan mess (p. 85) And no, I do not have an account or shares in Schwab; but credit is due to those that earned it by hard work.
    * Finally, there are several cases where Ferguson shows the increasingly large, and in fact, astonishing power that large financial firms have in very rapidly destroying pension funds (p. 98).  The book doesn't go into the Detroit-style bankruptcy, as of course it happened after the book was written, but the book cites enough models where you can see that this is the logical consequence of certain financial business structures.
    Ferguson doesn't say it outright, but one can see from the increasing size of the deals gone bad, and the increasing ill effects, not just locally, but now worldwide, that what is increasing is the amplitude of the ill effects. The financial wizards behind Long Term Capital Mnagement (LTCM) almost brought the market down when their bets got too big, and in effect created a very large "butterfly effect" in the financial system. Yet consolidation, rule-bending, and predatory behavior not only increased, but became bolder and in some cases shameless. Inequality has reached such proportions that it is emerging as a high listed topic on the political agenda. Witness Bill DeBlasio's "Tale of Two Cities" campaign for mayor of New York City and news reports critical of ex-NYC mayor Michael  Bloomberg visiting homes wrecked by Hurricane Sandy while the billionaire mayor was wearing expensive alligator shoes.
   Nationally, the billionaire Koch brothers have their own ultraconservative political agenda, and people fear that part of that pro-oligarch agenda is to take away Social Security. Let us hope that we have not forgotten the lessons of the Great Depression, and that we don't lose, by apathy, or inaction, the economic and political progress championed by FDR. So, 99 percenters, I do recommend that you read this book, and use material from it to advantage in the next round of elections. A good one for the book shelf, not just a quick read from the library. Highly recommended.

Readers & Book Lovers Series Schedule:

DAY TIME (EST/EDT) Series Name Editor(s)
SUN 6:00 PM Young Reader's Pavilion The Book Bear
2:00 PM What's on Your E-Reader? Caedy
2:00 PM Bibliophile's Wish List Caedy
4:00 PM Political Books Susan from 29
Sun 9:30 PM SciFi/Fantasy Book Club quarkstomper
Bi-Monthly Sun Midnight Reading Ramblings don mikulecky
MON 8:00 PM Monday Murder Mystery michelewln, Susan from 29
Mon 11:00 PM My Favorite Books/Authors edrie, MichiganChet
TUES 5:00 PM Indigo Kalliope: Poems from the Left bigjacbigjacbigjac
alternate Tuesdays 8:00 AM LGBT Literature Texdude50, Dave in Northridge
alternate Tuesdays 8:00 AM All Things Bookstore Dave in Northridge
Tue 8:00 PM Contemporary Fiction Views bookgirl
WED 7:30 AM WAYR? plf515
Wed 2:00 PM e-books Susan from 29
Wed 8:00 PM Bookflurries Bookchat cfk
THU 8:00 PM Write On! SensibleShoes
Thu (first each month) 11:00 AM Monthly Bookpost AdmiralNaismith
alternate Thursdays (on hiatus) 11:00 PM Audiobooks Club SoCaliana
FRI 8:00 AM Books That Changed My Life Diana in NoVa
alternate Fridays 8:00 PM Books Go Boom! Brecht
Fri 10:00 PM Slightly Foxed -- But Still Desirable shortfinals
SAT (fourth each month) 11:00 AM Windy City Bookworm Chitown Kev
Sat 12:00 PM You Can't Read That! Paul's Book Reviews pwoodford
Sat 9:00 PM Books So Bad They're Good Ellid

Originally posted to Readers and Book Lovers on Sun Jan 19, 2014 at 01:00 PM PST.

Also republished by California politics and Community Spotlight.

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

  •  No coincidence that the 1970s also saw (7+ / 0-)

    [1] state legislation such as California's  Propositon 13/ "Jarvis-Gann Amendment" to the state constitution.

    the initiative...contained language requiring a two-thirds majority in both legislative houses for future increases of any state tax rates or amounts of revenue collected, including income tax rates. It also requires a two-thirds vote majority in local elections for local governments wishing to increase special taxes. Proposition 13 received an enormous amount of publicity, not only in California, but throughout the United States.[2]

    [2] early (approx'ly 1974) pieces of federal legislation non-renewing for the first time in the histories of those longstanding bills the funding that was key to the single most democratic education component this country has ever had - free public libraries providing citizen-self-directed education, and educational support to students whose personal or background factors resulted in struggle meeting grade demands of the public education system.

    In California and elsewhere, the cascade effect initiated the implosion of the 2nd most democratic component of public education - virtually free public junior colleges.

    At the time, perceptive voices warning that the corporate realm had learned and devised new strategies and tactices for gradually returning American to government by plutocracy, went largely unheard. Californians in particular were too obsessessed with the fake gasoline shortage, the prototype for fabricated shortages in many critical goods driving a highly effective divide-and-conquer-the-public effort, such as the current cancer drug 'shortage' by Big Pharma and the nearly unquestioned skyrocketing of drug prices generally.

    As jfdunphy says,

    the nation is actually still in the process of having the system re-engineered away from being a democratic society.
    It took corporate America the time-span from the New Deal until the ending of the VietNam war to recognize that public opinion was still the route to economic domination, the propaganda just needed to be more subtle and gradual, and accompanied by legal economic manipulations, which they increasingly learned to do.

    Under-reported in California following Prop 13 was the extensive anger and fear expressed by owners of modest income properties such as four-&-six-unit apartment buildings and tiny 3-store strip malls and very-small farms, who had voted for Prop 13 in trust of the rescue promised to them, and lost their survival-income properties anyway. And blamed it on "the democrats."  Their properties were bought by big developers gobbling up multiple adjacent small income properties in order to building massive apartment 'complexes' and tract homes (described because of the shoddy construction materials as "instant slums" by one architect who left the business in disgust rather than collaborate in it), and 'industrial parks' on the outskirts, and highrise corporate buildings and shopping malls in locations made profitable by nearby major freeways.

    Use of middle-class fear engendered by perceived shortage of necessities, and by perceived competition with "minorities" for those necessities, has been the new internal imperialism all these years. By impoverishing individuals and employment sectors one small piece at a time (e.g., the aerospace industry implosion of the mid1970s, roughly, creating the first recurrence of nationwide homelessness and hunger since the Great Depression, and with us ever since) rather than entire socio-economic strata, the plutocrats made the divide-&-conquer neocolonialist principle work inside the U.S.

    In addition to outside as they were so successfully doing since the early 20th century, such as in the Middle East, where the petrochemical and weapons industry have successfully misfocused the region's and the world's gullible imaginations on religious conflict to the point that that conflict has become more actual than at nearly any time since the Crusades and Renaissance colonialism used Christianity to justify the outside-Europe plunder of raw resources and slaughter of "inferior" peoples living where those resources were.

    Ferguson's PREDATOR NATION seems to offer valuable insights into the usurpation of the democratic strengths of the American people, and, if so, kosak jfdunphy's recommendation is absolutely correct that "organizers should read [it]" as a lens to focus on the financial plutocracy's variations on the theme of predation of working America and the working world.

  •  Who is Charles H. Ferguson? (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    linkage, jfdunphy, RiveroftheWest

    Predator Nation is an excellent book, and I join in recommending it. But Ferguson seems much to humble because he has never mentioned how he made his fortune.

    Ferguson was the developer that created FrontPage, designed to let non-programmers build and edit webpages and websites. It was the first visual website development tool widely available. He sold his company, Vermeer Technologies, and its product, to Microsoft in early 1996, for $133 million. He wrote a book chronicling all this, which I highly recommend as a case study in applied engineering of information technology, and the business side of doing so. The book title is High Stakes, No Prisoners: A Winner's Tale of Greed and Glory in the Internet Wars, and is especially useful if you have read a few critical insider accounts of financial services and banking, such as Michael Lewis's Liar's Poker or The Big Short. That way you see the stark contrast between what financial services and bankers accomplish, and someone who actually creates something useful and of great social value.

    In the mid-2000s, Ferguson began making documentary films. His first was  No End In Sight, one of the first feature length documentaries on post-war Iraq, and was nominated for an Oscar in 2008. He then began work on Inside Job, Oscar-winning documentary on the financial crash, which absolutely nailed the academic whores masquerading as "economists,"  like Glenn Hubbard who have sold their souls to the banksters.

    A conservative is a scab for the oligarchy.

    by NBBooks on Mon Jan 20, 2014 at 07:10:48 AM PST

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site