10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
I struggled somewhat over how many stars to give this book, but given the amount of suffering and frustration I went through to finish the book, I felt that I couldn't give it more than two stars. It's unfortunate, because I've read other articles written by Whalen, as well as seen interviews he has given on TV on several occasions, and I have a great deal of respect for his intelligence and financial acumen. If you're looking for ideas on how we as a country should extricate ourselves from the mess in which we find ourselves, I think Mr. Whalen has a great deal to say that is worth listening to. He gives us some of his insight in the final chapter of this book, which I found to be by far the most interesting and insightful section of the book. Where Mr. Whalen's book falls short is in the quality of the writing and editing throughout, as well as certain instances of editorializing in which the author indulges.
I purchased this book with the hope that not only would it provide me an introduction to the financial history of the United States, but also a great deal of the author's opinion on the future path that we as a nation must take. Prospective readers must be aware that this is much more of a history than it is an analysis of present day financial issues. Furthermore, the financial and economic history as provided is poorly written, and as a result, confusing. I fully understand that in economic history, cause and effect can be difficult to trace, and it's not always obvious, even many years later, why exactly events transpired as they did. Nevertheless, Mr. Whalen's consistent habit of looping back and forth between years, while telling what appears to be a chronologically linear economic story is extremely confusing. For example, in relating events that occurred in and around 1913, he will reference WWI as a cause for those events. This can clearly not be the case, as WWI had not at that point been initiated. I'm sure that WWI was related to the primary topic of discussion, and I do not suspect the author of being disingenuous. However, as I've found in my own time in the financial sector, intimate familiarity with events can often lead the narrator of a story to jump back and forth between months and years in order to paint what he believes to be a better picture of events. I think this is what has happened to Mr. Whalen, and in all fairness, his editors should have made a better effort to help him clean up the flow of time in his writing. I found this to be a consistent problem throughout the book, and it severely detracted from what I was able to gain from my reading.
The second major issue the reader faces when trying to glean useful information from the book is the author's ongoing, but not always obvious, editorializing. Examples include his constant attacks on FDR's policies and personality during the Great Depression (on page 187 he calls him "just another American politician from New York, albeit with more than the usual personal flair and affectation due to his inherited wealth," and on page 214 he claims FDR took "direct example from fascist Italy") and his claim that "of course" General Patton should have continued his march eastwards to attack the Russians in 1945. No matter how you wish to look at it, it seems that there should be little place in a history for this kind of personal attack, nor is it in any way the case that "of course" Patton should have attacked the Russians. You can make arguments for both, to be sure, but they should not be presented as fact. Furthermore, I was a little uncomfortable with the pervasive references to work by the author's father, Richard Whalen. I understand that the author was in a unique position to make use of his father's works (both interviews, and published books), but the extent of the references made still strikes me as ill-advised in anything approaching a rigorous and defensible treatment of the subject at hand.
In conclusion, although I would recommend the author's other published work, I cannot recommend Inflated. Although I certainly did learn a fair amount of history from the book, it's almost certainly the case that I would have been better served reading other works on the matter.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
This book was not what I expected. I expected a book on the current crisis, and got a book on monetary/credit policy over the whole of the existence of the US. What is more, unlike most books that cover a long sweep of history, this book is even, and does not overemphasize the recent past, which is a humble thing for an author to do, because we don't know the full ramifications of recent actions yet.
Now, I respect the writings of Chris Whalen at Institutional Risk Analytics and elsewhere -- a bright guy. But this outperformed my high expectations. Some books I glide through because I know the topic well. This was a book where I thought I knew the topic well, but found that I did not know as much as I thought, and so I read more slowly than I usually do.
But this book changed my view on financial crises. Whether one is under a gold standard or a fiat currency standard, the main order for assuring stability is the regulation of banks and credit.
In the same way that people need help in verifying whether a drug is effective or food is pure, they need to know that promises to pay will be honored. It does not matter what backs the currency if banks are allowed to overlever, or mismatch assets long -- there will be a financial panic, and it is not due to gold, silver, or fiat money necessarily, but that that banks made promises that could not be kept under all scenarios.
Yes, I think it is better to be under a gold standard, because it restricts the power of the government. But that is not the main issue with financial crises; we need to restrict that ability of banks to borrow short and lend long; we also need to restrict their overall leverage. Do that, and crises disappear -- also, banks are far less profitable, and that is a good thing. We will get fewer banks, and bright people will go to more useful places in the economy.
Other things that stood out to me were the First and Second National Banks of the US, and how their creation led to booms, and dissolution led to busts. Lincoln is unique in every way, even in monetary policy terms, as he created unbacked paper money to fight the civil war, which funded a lot of it. After the war, the return to the gold standard, much as it should have been done, was depressive, but it was an effect of paying off the war.
I came away from this book with a more balanced view of US politics -- many of those I like came off worse, and those I did not like were shown to have been better than I thought -- with the exception of Lincoln, who in hindsight seems to be a radical in most senses. I am very glad that slavery is gone, but not the way that it got done.
Ignore Roubini's introduction. Better Whalen should have gotten a real intellect like James Grant or Caroline Baum.
Also, in the middle of the book, in WWII, the US spends far more than its GDP on the war. I get it, but I think it would be more reasonable to classify defense spending inside GDP so that we can see what proportion of national output is going to the war effort.
Who would benefit from this book:
Anyone with a moderate intellect or better could learn from this balanced account of America's monetary and credit policies. It is very well written; those with little knowledge will learn much, but those with greater knowledge will still learn something.