Kristine's Reviews > Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World

Boomerang by Michael Lewis
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Nov 06, 11

bookshelves: non-fic, political-biz-econ-ish
Read from November 01 to 06, 2011

Michael Lewis, author of The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine, which is a book that explores the financial meltdown - specifically focusing on a few who saw it coming and bet the farm on everything melting down and hit the jackpot. During his research he happened upon someone who explained to him that this is not just about banks failing and countries bailing them out. This was about the fact that whole countries are teetering on the edge of default. And this random guy was calling it back in 2008.

I imagine that when his predictions came true come 2011 Michael Lewis was scrambling to throw this book together. It did seem like it was quickly written -- and it's a bit crass at times (it had a Daily Show feeling to it) as he quoted anonymous financial insiders. Apparently when you are anonymous you have no repercussions for your language in public. If you're language sensitive, I'd skip this one (esp the part on Germany).

But that being said it was very educational, funny, and timely. Since every morning I am listening to the insanity of the Greek debt crisis on NPR on my way to work. Basically when cheap credit flushed the planet from 2002 to 2007, different countries responded in different ways. He took trips to Iceland, Greece, Ireland, and Germany to gather anecdotes for this book. One of the premises is that when you have a lot of money, it reveals your character - because in normal times there are a lot of parts of our characters (good and bad) that we can't afford to indulge. So in a way, having a lot of money reveals who you truly are. And he takes this approach with each country. He says, "The greeks turned their country into a pinata stuffed with cash and allowed as many citizens as possible to take a whack at it. The Germans wanted to be even more German; and the Irish wanted to stop being Irish.

A lot of commentary in this book is shocking. Shocking as in, "Wow, I thought we were pretty corrupt, but Greece has us beat 100-1." He lays out in layman's terms how Greece happened, what the Euro has to do with anything, and why Germany is even willing to *consider* bailing other countries out.

And the last chapter he turns the lens upon ourselves. How the nation will cut funding to states to balance budgets (watch out California, you're a case study in fiscal dysfunction, the whole state may default), and when the states need to balance budgets they'll cut funding to municipalities (cities). And what happens there, my friends, is Vallejo, California. In 2008 the city declared bankruptcy - it's pay, benefits, and pensions of PD & FD took up over 80% of its budget. I think they settled for 20 cents on the dollar or something like that. It's devastating for cities and communities that we live in -- and I think, as ML suggests, that Vallejo is just the beginning.

4 stars educational value
2 stars for language
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