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How Markets Fail: The Logic of Economic Calamities Paperback – Nov 23 2010

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 409 pages
  • Publisher: Picador USA; Reprint edition (Nov. 23 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312430043
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312430047
  • Product Dimensions: 18.5 x 2 x 21.2 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 599 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #146,074 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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“A brilliant intellectual framework for the story of our economic collapse.” ―Paul M. Barrett, New York Times Book Review

“Cassidy clearly knows a great deal of economics, and he tells his story extremely well . . . Many of his chapters--on the development of general equilibrium theory (how everything in the economy systematically depends on everything else), for example, or marginalism (why prices are determined by what we're prepared to pay for the very last item of something we buy, rather than what the whole amount is worth to us)--would make useful supplementary reading in an undergraduate economics course.” ―Benjamin M. Friedman, The New York Review of Books

“The most intellectually sophisticated account of what went wrong.” ―Lucas Wittmann, The Daily Beast

“[A] wonderful book . . . The most concise and elegantly written account, among the many that have come out, of how we got into this mess.” ―Liaquat Ahamed, The National Interest

“[How Markets Fail] brilliantly dissects much of what has passed for economic wisdom, and decries the lack of humility from those whose theories helped cause the disaster.” ―Floyd Norris, The New York Times

“Highly readable . . . Cassidy offers a clear and occasionally colorful exposition of the evolution of relevant economic thought in a way that is accessible to non-economists.” ―Richard N. Cooper, Foreign Affairs

“Fascinating and important.” ―Eliot Spitzer, Slate

“An admirably lucid account of how ‘utopian economics' drove us to disaster . . . This is a compelling synthesis that derives most of its narrative energy from the author's clarity of thought and exposition.” ―James Pressley,

“An essential, grittily intellectual, yet compelling guide to the financial debacle of 2009.” ―Geordie Greig, London Evening Standard

“The last major attempt of 2009 to make sense of what has become of the discipline of economics.” ―Stefan Stern, Financial Times (Best Books of the Year)

“A well constructed, thoughtful and cogent account of how capitalism evolved to its current form.” ―Edmund Conway, The Daily Telegraph

“[How Markets Fail] is more than just an account of the failures of regulators and the self-deception of bankers and homebuyers, although these are well covered. For Mr. Cassidy, the deeper roots of the crisis lie in the enduring appeal of an idea: that society is always best served when individuals are left to pursue their self-interest in free markets . . . An ambitious book, and one that mostly succeeds.” ―The Economist

“An ambitious, nuanced work that brings ideas alive . . . Cassidy makes a compelling case that a return to hands-off economics would be a disaster.” ―Chris Farrell, BusinessWeek

“Both a narrative and a call to arms, [How Markets Fail] provides an intellectual and historical context for the string of denial and bad decisions that led to the disastrous ‘illusion of harmony,' the lure of real estate and the Great Crunch of 2008. Using psychology and behavioral economics, Cassidy presents an excellent argument that the market is not in fact self-correcting, and that only a return to reality-based economics--and a reform-minded move to shove Wall Street in that direction--can pull us out of the mess in which we've found ourselves.” ―Publishers Weekly

“An elegant, readable treatise on economics, swathed in current headlines . . . Cassidy delivers on the promise of his title, but he also offers a clear-eyed look at economic thinking over the last three centuries, from Adam Smith to Ben Bernanke, and shows how the major theories have played out in practice, often not well . . . Cassidy writes with terrific clarity and a finely tuned sense of moral outrage, yielding a superb book.” ―Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

About the Author

John Cassidy is a journalist at The New Yorker and a frequent contributor to The New York Review of Books. He is the author of Dot.con: How America Lost Its Mind and
Money in the Internet Era and lives in New York City.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Sigmund Roseth on Jan. 6 2010
Format: Hardcover
How Markets Fail

Well written, for the general public. Covers history of economic theory and economists; overview over economic theory, with emphasis on the market and the problems of "bubbles" and "rational irrationality" of the market economy. I highly recommend it to anyone who want a readable and illunminating overview of econimics, and insight into the recent recession and its causes.

Sigmund Roseth
Mississauga, ON CA
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Vlad Thelad TOP 1000 REVIEWER on Jan. 27 2010
Format: Hardcover
Cassidy has many merits, but the one really that stands out is how he conveys complex economic concepts in the simplest of terms, without losing accuracy. This book is a clear and concise overview of the theories that shaped the myth of market infallibility. Cassidy dismantles the dogma with compelling evidence, and clear objectivity. One key idea being the failure of mechanical transpositions from "micro" to aggregate "macro" truths; and, therein lies the individual rationality creating the societal irrationality. In the book, Cassidy goes as far as to shed light on possible ways forward. If "statists" and "free-marketers" equally dislike what he says, take it as proof that he is on the right track.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Very intelligent writer. I loved Dot. con too. Probably the best book I've read recently. I wish he wrote more books. Gives great insight into mass psychology and economics theory and why theory and practice doesn't always coincide. Any one who has money in the market should read this. Other good books: Guns Germs and Steel, the Emperor of all maladies, ghost map.
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49 of 54 people found the following review helpful
Very insightful but with imperfect solutions to problems Dec 21 2009
By Rajesh Gajra - Published on
Format: Hardcover
The 2007 and 2008 crisis in world economics and financial markets have spawned many books. This is one book that talks about the same crisis but perhaps in a much more insightful way than any other. Dwelling on the interplay between economic policies and financial markets this book is difficult to put down once you realise the enormous promise it holds when you read the 12 pages of the 'Introduction' chapter. That promise is not belied although John Cassidy, the author, could have been clearer and more elaborate in the solutions he offers.
Cassidy refers to the idea that a free market economy is sturdy and well grounded as an "illusion of stability". He calls this "Utopian economics". This forms the first of three parts of his book and includes eight fascinating chapters on the people and ideas that shaped it.
This section of the book first lays out in great detail how economic theories and economists came about to have a large sphere of influence in central banks' monetary policy matters and governments' economic policies. It describes how the "Chicago School" of economics, propagating free market economy with almost zero regulations, ended up enormously broadening their sphere of influence in the top echelons of the US Federal Reserve and the Treasury department of the US government. What follows is an excellent exposition of 10-12 most-influential economists including Adam Smith, John Keynes, Milton Friedman, Robert Lucas and Friedrich Von Hayek, as well as a couple of mathematicians such as Eugene Fama.
Taking the reader back and forth in time, Cassidy beautifully connects the conservative economists with the "neo" liberalists, mathematics with economics, and evangelist-led economic theories with existing practices in financial markets and governmental regulations.
The second part of Cassidy's book has him propagating "reality-based" economics. Cassidy believes that free market economists dangerously ignore the very possibility of speculative bubbles, leave alone the fact that market prices during a speculative bubble provide incentives for individuals and companies to "act in ways that are individually rational but immensely damaging to themselves and others". He even gives examples of market failures beyond financial markets, such as markets encouraging "power companies to despoil the environment and cause global warming", health insurers excluding "sick people from coverage and CEOs stuffing "their own pockets at the expense of their stockholders."
The second part is as elaborate, articulate and insightful as the first. Cassidy puts forth the economics-linked issues of "the prisoner's dilemma", "the market for lemons", "the beauty contest", "the rational herd" and "ponzi finance". Like in the first part Cassidy beautifully uses the works of important contributors to economics to illustrate their--and his own--arguments. For instance, on the subject of market externalities, Cassidy talks about a paper, presented at Harvard University in the mid-1980s by W. Brian Arthur, a applied mathematician from Northern Ireland, wherein Arthur argued that chance events and network effects can enable inferior technologies to beat out superior products and take over entire markets.
Cassidy, however, fails to convince, why monopolies should be forced to co-operate with budding competitors. He talks about Microsoft refusing to make its products compatible with those of its rivals but does not rationalise why that is such a good thing in a competitive scenario and how much of sustainable benefits it will provide to consumers.
In the third and last part of the book Cassidy turns to the real-life happenings in financial markets and economies in the last 20-30 years and how they led to the complete financial meltdown in 2007 and 2008. This is again a very exciting read as Cassidy elaborately criticises Alan Greenspan's blind eye to the speculative bubbles in the real estate market, fanatic reduction of interest rates to artificially pump up the economy after the 'dot com' bust in 1999-2000, and dangerously preventing regulators such as Commodity Futures Trading Commission from laying out capital adequacy and risk-containment measures for complex financial products like credit default swaps and other complex financial derivatives.
Cassidy lays out in good detail the history of mortgages, including the sub-prime chain, and the bubble in real estate prices. There are rare insights into how the securitisation of mortgages by banks and Wall Street firms grew in size and led to extreme risks that ultimately exploded in the face of every financial market participant. He also points to the failure of capitalism in that tax payers money had to be used to bail out the failures in the market.
While Cassidy is great in describing what happened he is very weak in pointing out appropriate solutions in much detail. He does, however, says that free markets should not be devoid of active government intervention when prices are going up and building into a bubble. But Cassidy should have been more sharp and pointed out that if firms get too big to fail then they should be too big to succeed in the first place. Or, if free markets are to be allowed without restrictions, then any failures should also be allowed to happen freely without government bailouts. If profits are made by everyone during a bubble then losses can also be borne by everyone when the bubble bursts.
He also fails to highlight enough the dangers of uncontrolled leverage in not just financial derivatives but also in complex financial structured products whether traded directly between counterparties or traded on a financial exchange.
But, on the whole, the book is a great read.
148 of 173 people found the following review helpful
A must read critique of economic theory Dec 10 2009
By Gaetan Lion - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Cassidy analyzes how orthodox economic theory (he calls Utopian economics) went astray. While Adam Smith advanced the merits of market competition and free trade in "Wealth of Nations" in 1776; He warned against unregulated credit creation and ensuing speculative excesses. But, economists focused solely on Smith's benefit of free markets. The field of economics became increasingly quantitative based on flawed assumptions including Cassidy's four basic Utopian illusions:
1) the illusion of harmony (free markets always generate good outcomes);
2) the illusion of stability (free market economy is sturdy);
3) the illusion of predictability (distribution of returns can be foreseen); and
4) the illusion of Homo Economicus (individuals are rational and act on perfect information).

This idealized framework allowed economists to develop overreaching math models increasingly disconnected from reality. This trend started with Friedrich Hayek, leading Austrian economics, who stated in late 1930s that prices communicate near perfect information that determined underlying demand and supply. This was a brilliant insight if not taken too far. In the 1970s, Eugene Fama builds upon Hayek's insight with the Efficient Market Hypothesis (EMH) that stated stock prices captured all available information. Thus, stock prices move randomly and both technical and fundamental analysis do not add value. The theory was popularized by Burton Malkiel in A Random Walk Down Wall Street: Completely Revised and Updated Edition. The EMH was a brilliant insight backed by data (the majority of mutual fund managers do not beat the index to this day). But, it lead to Robert Lucas Rational Expectation Hypothesis (REH) in the 1980s. The REH stated that all markets (goods, labor, etc...) are efficient not just securities. It also stated that individuals act upon their anticipating of future events. This entailed that fiscal or monetary policies have no effect since the public counters them. Cassidy states REH was the most hubristic Utopian economics theory as it was completely disconnected from reality. The next Utopian manifestation was the General Equilibrium Theory (GBT). The latter represents more than century long effort (Leon Walras, French economist, first pronounced it in 1870s) to demonstrate that all markets affect each other and each has a single interdependent equilibrium price. The underlying math is forbidding; yet GBT utility and accuracy is null.

Cassidy discredits Milton Friedman and Alan Greenspan the most. Friedman is "The Evangelist" libertarian who broadcasted his anti-government views in two manifestos Free to Choose: A Personal Statement and Capitalism and Freedom: Fortieth Anniversary Edition. His anti-Keynesian theory of monetarism is completely obsolete. It was shortly tried in the early 1970s in the U.S. and the U.K. and was a dismal failure (source: Paul Krugman).

Cassidy states Greenspan was the main culprit of the housing bubble and ensuing financial crisis on two grounds. First, he kept interest rates too low for too long in the first half of this decade. This contributed to skyrocketing home prices. Second, his Utopian view that financial markets better self-regulate their risks than regulators promoted egregious mortgage underwriting (the Subprime mess). It also facilitated unregulated collateral debt obligations (CDOs) and credit default swaps (CDS) that spread the financial crisis worldwide.

Cassidy provides rebuttals to Utopian economics from many fields he lumps into "reality-based economics." The latter includes Game Theorists John von Neumann and John Nash. Game Theory contradicts economic theory as individuals respond strategically to each others' actions (Prisoner's Dilemma) instead of economic incentives. Reality-based economists also include Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, psychologists, who demonstrated individuals are irrational as we are more sensitive to losses than gains. We overweight our firsthand experience and events that occurred recently. Richard Thaler, an economist, will apply their ideas thereby creating behavioral economics.

The most successful reality-based economist is Hyman Minsky. His theories pervade Cassidy section on the current financial crisis. Minsky is an American economist (1919-1996) ignored during his lifetime; but, is now experiencing a resurgent posterity. This is because the first decade of the 21st century with the and housing bubbles confirmed the relevance of his model. The later entails that free market economies are inherently unstable prone to booms and busts caused by asset bubbles. This is because the credit cycle exacerbates the business cycle. Bankers lend too much when collateral values go up (causing bubbles) and not enough when collateral values flatten (credit freeze). Minsky's model is scalable from homeowners defaulting on their mortgages to countries defaulting on sovereign debt. Charles Kindleberger leveraged Minsky's model to explain 400 years of financial crisis in his formidable Manias, Panics, and Crashes: A History of Financial Crises (Wiley Investment Classics).

Minsky success also reinforces the greatness of both Adam Smith and John Maynard Keynes. Smith fully anticipated the relevance of Minsky's model and the resulting need for tightly regulating credit. Keynes fully understood free market economies are inherently unstable and occasionally need a fiscal push (Keynesianism). Additionally, both Smith and Keynes were behavioral economists before it was cool as they fully grasped the irrationality of speculators.

Cassidy is by no means a socialist. He just thinks the dogmatic choice between free markets and socialism is wrong. He adheres to what Smith/Keynes/Minsky suggest. And, that is the credit market is a social utility that needs tight regulation to prevent the type of economic calamities we just experienced. And, his preventive recommendations are more stringent but in line with the proposals from the Obama Administration.
57 of 65 people found the following review helpful
Good in places, painful in others. July 19 2010
By 1000Books - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book was great in places and painful in others.
On the one hand, I think he does do some wonderful things in the way of reviewing history and certain distortions that have lead to crisis. Part 2 of the book of is fairly accurate.

On the other hand, in his search to put everything on Alan Greenspans doorstep, he left out some very important details. Further he also just got parts of finance, particularly the parts that are important to this crisis, just plain wrong. I can't get too mad at him, because if I had a nickel for every journalist, let alone finance professional that has gotten it wrong, half right, somewhat confused, or otherwise, I'd have a lot more than 1$.

So let's go through it a bit.

1 - While it's nice to blame Greenspan, you really can't just do so, particularly when you're writing a book about market regulation. I mean, while the FRB did create the laws which cover Home Ownership and Equity protection as well as the Equity Credit Opportunity Act, it's actually the FTC that regulates the Mortgage brokers NOT the Fed. Further the FED does not solely regulate the Banking Trusts (Investment banks), the SEC, does that job. Nor does the Fed regulate the ratings agencies or the the insurance companies (AIG). Hence, to put it all on the fed, kind of misses the other parties that were a bit asleep at the wheel and also obsconds one of the major problems in the dependancies of the argument he sets forth in Chapter 1, i.e. "increasing regulation" or seeing the Greenspan as a period of "laissez faire". This is not to say that Cassidy makes the argument that Greenspan's world was without regulation. However, if you're going to come out strong against the man, you really ought to have your facts straight about ALL the regulators that are to be blamed and allocate the blame pie around accordingly.

2 - While he starts to discuss his argument for why Glass–Steagall should not have been repealed, it's just not particularly well articulated. You can't just say, you need to not repeal glas-steagel because then the banks turn into investment banks. Why exactly do you think it's pernicious? Do you also want to address the aspects that are quite positive about re-pealing Glass–Steagall ? Do you understand why the banks might need a prop trading desk given what they are being asked to do as a function of the 20 years of finance that occurred from 1980's onward post the 2 debt crisis PLUS the Sarbanes–Oxley?

3- There were a few paragraphs that appeared to confuse CDS with CDO. Let's just clarify... a CDS stands for Credit Default Swaps. The issue for these is far more margin driven and less collateral driven. They are not really that different from IRS (interest rate swaps) or Repos in that way. The ONLY cavaet that (and this is true of all swaps) is that there are 3 counter-parties, BECAUSE these trade OTC and not on exchange. The 2 counter-parties in the transaction should be mar ginning and the 3rd counter party is the bank that holds the two pieces in custody. Now... definitely the bank needs to hold collateral as per guidelines dealing with banking regulation. This is why it's so problematic when a major investment bank goes under, i.e. this evokes a credit event and calls into question the swap despite that both of the other two parties who engaged in the transaction might still be fully capable of carrying out their sides of the trade.

CDO - stands for Collateralized Debt Obligation. Notice that Collatoral is part of the name. Most people did in fact collaterollize these debt obligations, but admittedly under-collatoralized. Hence, if you match that section of the book with this instrument and then do NOT try to carry similarities over to CDS (which incidentally is as different as if you were trying to say that a bond future is the same as a convertible bond or French is similar to Spanish), you should actually be able to keep reading this section with less confusion.

4- Most VaR calculation do not fail because of correlation. They fail because of historical data. You can kind of in a VERY round about way say they fail because of correlation increasing to one, if you use the positive feedback loop argument (and to do so would be VERY generous), but more likely, given the way the paragraph is written you are confusing calculating VaR with calculating default risk. It's actually a completely different calculation derived from a fairly different body of math and financial mathematicians.

There are a few other issues in the book, but I'll save that for other Amazon reviewers.

So why even give it 3? Why not give it 2 or 1 star? Well...
1) I have to compare him to his peers and as wrong as he is, he is still relative more right than others that have tried to explain this.
2) He's got some good points, if - and this is not an insignificant "if"-- if you work in the particular area of finance that knows this stuff cold - you can just get past parts of the book being wrong
3) I like the graph on page 257. Is the addition of 1 or 2 stars generous because of a good graph, perhaps, but hey... I like a good graph, this is my review and when you write your own review you can use whatever criteria you want to allocate stars :)....

I would however recommend over this book, The Myth of the Rational Market by Justin Fox. Also a journalist, I wasn't able to find anything that was wrong in his book. It was well written, accurate and fair. That said, he also doesn't try to make as strong a claim as Cassidy does; which is my biased preference for books of this nature.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Powerfully Convincing Feb. 2 2010
By Jiang Xueqin - Published on
Format: Hardcover
In "How Markets Fail: The Logic of Economic Calamities," New Yorker financial reporter John Cassidy brilliantly dissects the failed thinking and logic that led to the spectacular speculative bubbles that almost destroyed global capitalism. Divided into three parts Mr. Cassidy first traces the rise of "utopian" free market economics (in Mr. Cassidy's mathematical equation, this is rendered as "self-interest plus free competition equal nirvana"), and its current stranglehold over academic debate and economic policy. In part two Mr. Cassidy introduces "reality-based" economics as a necessary corrective to utopian economics; contrary to the market knows best mentality of many an economist, Mr. Cassidy argues that "rational irrationality" is a fact of the free market because of "externalities," hidden information, herd mentality, the prisoner's dilemma, and disaster myopia. Here Mr. Cassidy makes a powerful point about human nature: people are not bad, but if you permit and encourage them to be then they will behave badly.

And that is exactly what happened, as Mr. Cassidy argues in part three. Utopian economists applied the free market "invisible hand" principle to the financial sector (which economists have argued is inherently unstable), federal regulators simply did not do their job and Wall Street did their job too well. Using the prisoner's dilemma and logic Mr. Cassidy can understand why Wall Street behaved the way it did (they are paid to be amoral opportunists, after all), but he is not so forgiving of Alan Greenspan. As chairman of the Federal Reserve, Mr. Greenspan abetted the rise of spectacular speculative bubbles by first lowering interest rates and then refusing to intervene as the bubbles threatened America's financial system. Mr. Cassidy points out the logical contradiction in Mr. Greenspan's inaction:

"For almost two decades, Greenspan had headed an institution that was designed to save financial capitalism from itself. For him to claim that the market economy is innately stable wasn't merely contentious; it was an absurdity. If he had seriously believed what he wrote, he would surely have followed the lead of his fellow Randians and argued for the abolition of the Fed and the reestablishment of the principle that struggling financial institutions should be allowed to fail. This he never did. Instead, he helped make it easier for financiers to take on extra leverage and risk while pursuing a monetary policy that often seemed to protect them for their mistakes."

With righteous indignation Mr. Cassidy continues his onslaught:

"The combination of a Fed that can print money, deposit insurance, and a Congress that can authorize bailouts provides an extensive safety net for big financial firms. In such an environment, pursuing a policy of easy money plus deregulation doesn't amount to free market economics; it is a form of crony capitalism. The gains of financial innovation and speculation are privatized, with the bulk of them going to a small group of wealthy people who sit at the apex of the system. Much of the losses are socialized. Such a policy framework isn't merely inequitable; it is also destabilizing."

Mr. Cassidy is perceptive and accurate with all his assessments, and while the federal government has indeed saved global capitalism he also fears that we have not absorbed the lessons of the financial meltdown. Wall Street firms such as JP Morgan Chase are still "too big to fail," and utopian economics continues to dominate academia. The theoretical and regulatory frameworks which permitted this current recession are still in place, and that cannot bode well for the future.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
A Great Book on What Can Go Wrong With Otherwise Superior Free Markets March 26 2011
By Todd Carlsen - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book shows the cold hard facts of how a free market system can fail due to certain behaviors. It's an economics history lesson showing the situations where free markets fail and the "rational" behaviors that lead to that irrational outcome, and the book debunks the Utopian myth that free markets will always self-correct and never fail. The book explains what behaviors should not be allowed that can cause the economy to collapse.

It first explains the Utopian delusion that complete laissez faire markets always works. Then it explains a much better economic framework that the author calls "reality-based economics." Then the book explains what happened economically with the economic collapse of 2008, the worst since the Great Depression. This is a great book to understand the economic collapse of 2008. More important, it explains the underlying economic dynamics at work in history to show how laissez faire is a big mistake that can bring down our global economy, and there is a better way through sensible safeguards. The author seems to know economics extremely well and can explain this information in a way that does not make your head spin.

The Wall Street Journal called this book "a marvelous book."

The Economist called this book "Shrewd and entertaining... Thoroughly persuasive."

I want to emphasize that this books is NOT an overall attack on capitalism in favor of socialism or another order. He is simply explaining the instances when free markets failed and what behaviors need to be banned to make free markets work better. He does strongly disagree with those who argue for complete laissez faire policies (advocating no rules and that markets will always self-correct).

The philosophy of laissez faire is a Utopian delusion. The facts of economic history show that laissez faire has led to market disasters, and the author presents a convincing case that certain behaviors that are rational to one person are irrational to the economy as a whole and will bring down the economy. It's like if one person leaves a football game at a big stadium in the middle of the game it does not matter, but if everyone tries to leave, you have a problem. If one person withdraws his savings from a bank it does not matter. If everyone does in a bank run, the bank will fail. If one bank fails it's not a big deal. If huge parts of the financial system collapse, lending and money flow seizes up and contracts, bringing down everything. Some risk taking behavior can be damaging to the economy, and then when that happens markets will not always self-correct.

This book gives suggestions for what the author calls reality-based markets.

The weakness of this book is that it could have explained more about past economic history, especially the Great Depression. It does not say enough about what we learned from the Great Depression and what worked (and did not work) with Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal as far as creating decades of STABLE prosperity built upon the economic safeguards of the New Deal.

For example, originally, Franklin Roosevelt created the FHA to create modern 30 year mortgages that brought home ownership to millions for the first time. FDR gave home ownerships to millions, fueling the great post-war boom. The FHA back then required that borrowers show their credit worthiness, imposed lending rules, and required a certain amount of down payment (I think it was 20%) so people could not buy mortgages they could not afford and could not handle. Government back then with the New Deal was strict about financial security and worked to ensure the basic economic security of America. That era of post-war prosperity, built on the New Deal, was stable and not overly-speculative. The New Deal was designed to save and strengthen capitalism with pragmatic rules, and decades of stable middle class prosperity followed.

Then decades later when Bush Jr was president, some numb-skulls (certain members of congress, the ownership society president, and lobbyists) decided to make Fannie and Freddie give loans to people who could not handle them. Regulations were relaxed and liar loans were allowed where you did not even have to prove your income. Mortgage insurance secured this house of cards. Like climbers going up a mountain chained together, when the liar loans and mortgage-backed securities went bust, all the climbers fell together from the mountain. It seems that everyone had totally forgot about what happened to the financial system during the Great Depression.
I think people should go back and look at the parts of the New Deal that worked well, such as FDIC to insure bank deposits and forever end bank runs, SEC to require audited financial statements and securities regulation for information disclosure and bad fraud, FHA, Glass-Stegal Act to put firewalls in the financial system, the constant fiscal stimulus of social security when private sector spending plunges, and the clear understanding in society and government that extreme risk taking for for profit could bring down the economy and extreme risk was not allowed.

I want to concur with the review written by Mark V Anderson below. Yes, some self-interested behaviors in a free market system can cause the economic system to collapse and those behaviors should be banned. However, overall free markets (with sensible rules enforced fairly by referees) are better than communism or socialism or fascism or anything else. Also, governments can make mistakes.

We do need government to ban certain bad behaviors and extreme greed at the expense of those who work hard and play by the rules, but let's not only point the finger at what can go wrong with free markets. Free markets work best with sensible rules. Ronald Reagan was a New Dealer but then said that government went off track since then. Also, Reagan wrote in his autobiography that he supported a basic safety net for the elderly, disabled and orphans, but not the explosion in the cost and ineffectiveness of welfare.

There are four other books I would also recommend along with this book for a fuller picture:

1. Stabilizing an Unstable Economy. This is a landmark economics book explaining how a free market economy can become unstable and then how to stabilize it.
2. Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World. This book won the Pulitzer Prize.
3. John Maynard Keynes. This debunks some myths about Keynes's general theory, explaining how Keynes showed that capitalism is unstable and what to do about it. Later Keynesian policies espoused by other were never articulated in Keynes General theory.
4. Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism. Capitalist countries, including USA, Japan, Korea, and many others, have become prosperous through big government economic investments and protections of economics interests (not pure free markets).