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Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World (Inglês) Capa Comum – 28 dez 2009
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Ahamed’s thesis is that the Great Depression was caused by misguided economic policies implemented by central bankers in Germany, France, England, and America. The book moves chronologically, first describing the politically controversial creation of central banks; then the financial impact of the world’s sudden plunge into the Great War; then the economic “consequences of peace” during post-war reconstruction; and finally the Great Depression and its aftermath.
The book’s subtitle, The Bankers Who Broke the World, implies that blame for the disastrous policies should lie with the nominal policymakers, the central bankers who made up the so-called “Most Exclusive Club in the World”: Benjamin Strong, Emile Moreau, Montagu Norman, and Hjalmar Schacht.
But blaming the central bankers is facile scapegoating. Consider an earnest question posed to an economic advisor by Winston Churchill: “You have been a politician. Given the situation as it is, what decision would you make?”
To the chagrin of a present and dissenting John Maynard Keynes, Churchill follows the advice of the advisor, which leads to economic calamity.
Blaming politicians, too, is shortcoming. To quell speculation in the pre-Depression stock market, Herbert Hoover, the engineer, and Adolph Miller, a Berkeley economist, have their own misguided policy ideas. Ahamed writes of these, “[T]hey had fallen into the first trap of financial officials dealing with complex markets––an excessive level of confidence in their own judgements.”
Lords of Finance shows economic policymaking for what it is: a muddled orgy of ideology, overconfidence, ego, theory, expertise, indicators, populism, vested interests, ignorance, and politics. Though there are individuals who possess the ability to impact financial crises, they are time and time again shackled by doubt, bureaucracy, and institutions. Nearly everyone errs; the boulder rolls down the mountain.
But circumstances have improved. Ahamed concludes by acknowledging the relative stability of the modern financial system––even as the book was published one year into the 2008 financial crisis. The world is better off because of consensus acceptance of the ideas popularized by the infallible John Maynard Keynes and the relative maturity of monetary theory.
For all of the economic insight, some of the work’s most enjoyable reading comes during tangents, when Ahamed drifts from lucid but dry discussion of interest rates and bank behavior into anecdotes about characters. Ahamed thankfully chooses to use footnotes to personify his characters, rather than expound on economic theory, which contributes to the book’s fluency and fun.
Lords of Finance is an excellent resource for anyone interested in economics, finance, and banking, or interested in seeing the Depression-era through a different lens.
The author quotes Herodotus for "Circumstances rule men, men do not rule circumstances." The economic and social devastation wrought on Europe by World War 1 and its aftermath provides the circumstances that ruled the financiers (Norman of Great Britain, Strong of the US, Schacht of Germany and Moreau of France) who attempted to rebuild the international financial order. Their failing, described in detail, arose from the commitment to the gold standard. Norman of Great Britain in particular was trapped by his adherence to gold. The gold standard had been economic orthodoxy prior to 1914 and had served Great Britain and international trade well. As generals tend to fight the last war, so the financiers seemed constrained by gold orthodoxy. However, in the financiers' defense, the issue of war reparations to be paid by Germany to Great Britain and France, and the United States' insistence on being repaid its loans to Great Britain and France frustrated rebuilding efforts.
If the book has a hero, it is John Maynard Keynes, who refused to adhere to the gold orthodoxy. His arguments for expansive government action acted as counterpoints to the policies adopted by the four main protagonists. Even if you believe that Keynes's arguments are flawed, it is still instructive to see their advocacy in the history of the time.
The book is well worth reading for parallels with current economic developments. As has been said, history may not repeat itself, but it does rhyme. The financiers did not pursue exactly the same policies and the policies produced different social and economic results, which may be helpful to know as we live through our own economic turmoil.
As a part of the backdrop of the times, the book explores the U.S. Federal Reserve System's formation and practical operation. The importance of the New York Federal Bank has apparently been a feature of the System from its beginning. The use of the New York Fed by private bankers to influence, if not outright determine, U.S. banking policy arose very early in the development of the Fed. The book is enlightening on this point as well.
The book provides an interesting interplay of the policy initiatives and personal lives of major figures in international finance during and after WWI. This was an unexpected element of the book, which made the protagonists more human.
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