Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Read both

We hear many people make claims that they had long known that the U.S. was in a housing bubble through the early 2000s. But most of them did nothing about it. We now know that a very few did and they made a lot of money. Michael Lewis tells that story beautifully in The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine. It takes us inside the sausage machine like nothing else I have seen.

We encounter many insiders (some we had heard of and others not) that we would not enjoy having as friends or neighbors. Lewis has an easy time citing their "greed" and linking it to so many not-so-wise choices and bad behavior.

Russ Roberts' paper includes the argument that a history of hundred-cents-on-the-dollar bailouts explains bondholders' tolerance of the many ill-fated gambles that Lewis describes.

You have to read both. Lewis hardly goes where Roberts treads and leaves readers with an incomplete understanding. It's much too easy to go with the greed (and accompanying hideous traits) explanation and leave it at that.

I have to add that Lewis' book will lend itself to a better movie than would Roberts' paper.