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Pity the Billionaire: The Hard-Times Swindle…
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Pity the Billionaire: The Hard-Times Swindle and the Unlikely Comeback of… (2012)

by Thomas Frank

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This book is not enjoyable. The narrative is full of gutter-level abuse flowing from Thomas Frank's rage over the bailouts. Only in Chapter 10 I think, Frank exhibits some coherence where he observes Obama no different from Wall Street.

Some notes:

1. No mention of how oil prices started the crisis.

2. End times scenarios fair enough and seems to recognize lean years follow fat years naturally, but seems irked by how some escaped in the bailout.

3. Financial derivatives are truly innovations and genuine markets for these develop, succeed, or fail like any other markets, but the book doesn't seem to appreciate this.

4. Mortgage industry serves a real need in the economy and the abuses chosen are not representative of the industry, , nor does it sufficiently detail the complexity of the mortgage industry and history that justified the bailouts.

5. Why bubbles are not ordinary if caused by financial innovation? They are as legitimate and ordinary as bubbles caused by industrial innovation (fibre optic for dot.com).

6. The conservative response is not unique, it is a response to left wing excesses. There cannot be any innovation in the economy without private capital. The book doesn't make a distinction between agents or inside traders who were the main culprits, the innocent outsiders who get trapped, and genuine private capital who had no part in the abuse, as it would have been detrimental to their own wealth.

7. The non-linear dynamics and complexity of the economy escapes the author's 'straight cause and effect' logic.

8. If both republican and democrats were complacent during boom years and naturally driven to innovation, then what we can on do now is to learn from experience and bring about corrective measure to curb abuse, such as imposing automatic limits which kick in during boom times.

9. 'Financial establishment' is not one big monolithic beast but and complex set of memes and heterogeneous agents whose dynamic organization as private markets is the epitome of human civilization, productivity. Correctly, I think Hayek termed it an utopia, alluding to Marx's own utopia and Darwinian evolutionary processes.

10. If the bailouts had not been done, we would have slipped into a true depression.

- MK. ( )
  janickg | Apr 15, 2014 |
Shallow (left-wing) criticism of bankers, politicians and in general the politics of the American recession. There are valid points there, but the author is not likely to convince anyone with his hysterical account (and voice-I listened to this as an audiobook). ( )
  ohernaes | Jan 31, 2014 |
This argument demonstrates the power of the Tea Party Movement and their right wing allies. What is happening to the United States is a major decline with the wholesale shift of wealth to the upper classes at the expense of the middle class. Poverty is increasing with a decline of governmental programs. It is directly attributable to a weak Democratic Party and the lock hold on the legislative process by the Republican Party. This is a tragedy. ( )
  phillund | Aug 25, 2013 |
I don't often read current-affairs books, even when I already know I'll agree with them, because what I see in the daily headlines makes me mad enough. I picked up this one because an article in our local paper pointed out that Thomas Frank wrote much of it in the very Port Townsend Public Library where I checked it out. Now, I've followed Frank since Baffler #6 way back in '95 (and by the way, it's pretty amazing that they kept my subscription live through fires, multi-year hiatuses in publishing, changes of editors, and changes of publishers), so it was a surprise to learn he'd been doing his thing right down the street. We do get a couple name-checks, but that's about it; he doesn't weigh in on our local controversies about parks and paper mills.

It's a short book and it covers a pretty specific territory: how in 2008-2011 the GOP and the Tea Party, having learned from the Great Depression, hijacked the left's appeal to the "common man" and redirected it to support their own obscenely rich funders, the very financiers and corporations who caused the financial crisis in the first place. The book's not going to convince anyone new that this happened, not least because if they don't believe it already they won't touch this book with a ten-foot pole, let alone read it and change their minds. But it does show, step by step, the strategic and rhetorical moves that the right-wing ravers used to turn things their way, and at least a few of the myriad opportunities that progressives missed to stop them.

It's far from over, but the worst of the damage is already done: the Tea Party took over the House in 2010, even Obama's watered-down health-insurance reform is on the ropes, and financial-industry regulation is off the table. Obama will be re-elected this year only because the Republicans are so fractured and pathetic, but four more years will not be enough for him to claw actual progressive policies back from the libertarian capitalist ideologies which have taken over American politics. Assuming he would want to, anyway.

It's a good book; Frank displays his usual wit and thorough research. But the kind of people likely to read it are liable to end up depressed and apprehensive about the future. ( )
  localcharacter | Apr 2, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
In "Pity the Billionaire," Thomas Frank, columnist and author who began his journey on the conservative end of the spectrum then gravitated toward left-of-center, writes a scathing satirical critique of the GOP's response to the financial crisis of 2008-9. While in his earlier book "What's the Matter with Kansas" he gave an incisive, yet witty critique of the far right's moral issues crusade and it's real motivations, or the dismantling of govt in "The Wrecking Crew," in "Pity the Billionaire" he takes on the efforts of the far right to paint the debate as one of "class warfare." rather than the unprecedented greed, tax evasion and the ensuing willful misinformation campaign that is the actual reality of the situation.

Frank is a clever, thoughtful, and articulate writer. He has also had some interesting guest appearances on shows like Real Time with Bill Maher and others. As a progressive-leaning moderate, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. He doesn't leave Democrats unscathed either- he critiques what he perceives to be their short-comings on healthcare reform, for instance, while also almost mocking the mediocrity and lack of a bold vision for leadership. To be fair, he does construct quite a straw man of the monied interests of the right in order to then tear it down, but, then again, that is an essential component of any satirical writing- so be forewarned, "Pity the Billionaire" is deeply satirical, but great reading! The word schadenfreude also comes to mind as he laments the "suffering" of the wealthiest...as they shed their crocodile tears all the way to the bank...or in Mitt Romney's case, his post office box in the Cayman Islands. ( )
1 vote peacemover | Jun 20, 2012 |
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Pity the Rich Men/God wants to love them even more/Glenn Beck told them so

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0805093699, Hardcover)


Amazon Exclusive: A Conversation Between David Sirota and Tom Frank

Journalist and Back to Our Future author David Sirota interviews Thomas Frank, author of What's the Matter with Kansas? and The Wrecking Crew, about his latest book.

David Sirota: Do rich people in America genuinely feel persecuted, or are their requests for pity a political ploy to combat their critics?

Tom Frank: Well, we’re talking about something that’s self-evidently preposterous. The phrase “Pity the Billionaire” is the absurd but inevitable end-point of the present conservative argument. The book is about people trying to depict themselves as the victims of a situation where they are manifestly not victims: imagining that corporate enterprises are ground under the iron heel of an over-regulating government, that banks were forced to issue the loans that puffed up the real-estate bubble, that taxes are by definition onerous and thieving, that businesspeople are all, as a rule, hard-working, unassuming, and straight-shooting—and that they have risen up righteously in a great strike, like in Ayn Rand’s and John Boehner’s fantasy.

Sirota: Why has the economic crisis resulted in a rise of conservative economic populism rather than progressive populism?

Frank: Because conservatives got there first with the most money.

Remember, the right has been “populist” for a long time now, raging against this educated elite and that. Populism is a language and a style that the conservative movement is comfortable with. It wasn’t hard to turn a well-funded, well-organized movement already accustomed to thinking of itself this way into a protest movement for hard times.

Of course, this involved the swiping of a whole range of traditional left-wing ideas and symbols, everything from the exaltation of the strike to the notion of a despicable “ruling class.”

The other side of the question is, why weren’t the liberals there to contest this larceny? Where was the left-wing populist movement? Occupy Wall Street didn’t turn up until three whole years after the September ‘08 crash.

The answer to this, I’m afraid, is that genuine populist movements don’t just spring up overnight, in the way the Tea Party did. They come together slowly. The Democratic Party, meanwhile, which is the traditional home of working-class movements, has grown very uncomfortable with populism. They don’t like it, they don’t trust it, they sure as hell don’t know how to talk it. The Democratic Party more and more sees itself as the party of conscientious professionals—of bankers who are socially liberal, for example—and not as the party of working people.

Click here to read more of the conversation

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:59:10 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

From the bestselling author of "What's the Matter with Kansas?" comes a wonderfully insightful and sardonic look at why the worst economy since the 1930s has brought about the revival of conservatism. Frank examines the peculiar mechanism by which dire economic circumstances have delivered wildly unexpected political results.… (more)

» see all 3 descriptions

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