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The Alchemists of Loss: How Modern Finance and Government Intervention Crashed the Financial System [Hardcover]

Kevin Dowd , Martin Hutchinson

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Book Description

7 May 2010
An engaging look at how modern finance almost destroyed our global economy Over the last thirty years, capital markets have been restructured through the tenets of modern finance. This has been enormously profitable for the financial services sector. However, these innovations, coupled with unsound risk and regulatory practices have proved disastrous for the global economy. In a clear and accessible style, ex–investment banker and financial journalist Martin Hutchinson, and highly respected academic, Kevin Dowd show how modern finance combined with easy money threatened to bring down the world financial system. At the heart of the book is modern finance as a U.S. invention, the theories and practices associated with them, and the changes they made in business models and risk management on Wall Street and other major financial centers. Breaks down the events involved in the 2007–08 financial collapse Reveals how botched policy response made a bad situation worse Focuses on lessons that the practice of finance must learn from recent events The Alchemists of Loss will help you to understand how our financial system crashed and show you what it will take to make sure this won′t happen again as we move forward.

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‘ “…written with elegance and wit: it sweeps the reader along…a tremendously stimulating read, and strong fuel for the reform debate.” (Financial World, July/August 2010). ‘...[an] entertaining new book...’ (Financial Times, August 2010). ‘… a fascinating, troubling read.’    (City AM, December 2010). ′....Long term horizons, coupled with clear analysis in the book , provide a clear understanding and historical perspective into financial crises’ (Central Banking, November, 2011)  

From the Inside Flap

“Many books have purported to examine the causes of the financial crash of 2008, but they really just provide commentary on the mistakes that were made. Authors have often concluded that we just need to make sure that governments stop markets making the same mistakes again – an approach that is doomed to failure. This book gets to the root causes of the crash [ and ] more government is not the solution.” Philip Booth, Professor of Insurance and Risk Management, Cass Business School and Institute of Economic Affairs “This book is must reading for anyone who wants to understand the true origins of the financial crisis and the reforms needed to create financial harmony.” James A. Dorn, Cato Institute, Washington DC; editor of The Future of Money in the Information Age “Unlike many financial prospectuses that preceded the Panic of 2008 and most of the discourse that has followed, Alchemists of Loss is not filled with contradictory statements, double–talk and non sequiturs. Dowd and Hutchinson present a clear, comprehensive and compelling diagnosis in which all of the culprits are hung out to dry. The authors then lay out a detailed blueprint for replacing what they finger as crony capitalism with Free–Market Capitalism.” Steve H. Hanke, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, USA “What if the 2007–2008 financial crisis was but the last by–product of the ‘Keynesian episode’? Alchemists of Loss draws lessons from the economic crises of the past, to envisage a way out of the current financial mess. This book is a must read for anyone who cares for the future of the world economy.” Alberto Mingardi, Director General, Istituto Bruno Leoni, Milan “Bracing, sharp, bleakly amusing and profoundly depressing, Alchemists of Loss is a fascinating, smart, often contrarian analysis of how the financial system got into the mess into which it now finds itself – and why none of us are likely to emerge in one piece.” Andrew Stuttaford, Contributing editor, National Review Online

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.0 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting & detailed analysis with incomplete recommendations 28 Nov 2010
By Robert - Published on
I wanted to like this book. And I did in many ways. But not enough to give it a higher rating. I appreciated the detailed discussion of "Modern Finance". I appreciated the discussions of the various transgressions of financial institutions without blaming "the free market". The discussion of managerial capitalism was fascinating. Nuggets such as the impact of the estate tax on corporate structure were also illuminating. There is also an interesting and fresh discussion on how Greenspan's policies evolving over his term.

I did find some chapters were so dense with mathematical analysis that I mostly skimmed them. (To the authors' credit, they acknowledge such at the beginning of chapter 15 by suggesting that it could be optional for some readers.)

The broad recommendations of stricter monetary controls, reduction in the scope of deposit insurance, and restrictions on future bailouts of financial institutions seemed quite sound. The overall tone that our financial systems would be better served with less government actions and less regulation was also compelling to me (acknowledging my own confirmation bias.)

I did find chapter 16 to be a little muddy. The authors suggest various reforms of corporate governance while seemingly ignoring how these reforms might be implemented without additional government interventions. To my eyes, the authors fell into the trap that all we need is better regulations of financial institutions and corporations without acknowledging the incentives that governments and legislatures have when crafting such regulations.

For US readers, keep in mind that the book is mostly written from a UK perspective. Not completely, for sure, but enough that I was forced to pause regularly to make sure I understood what was being presented.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent analysis of the latest crisis 22 Dec 2010
By Jonathan Moreno - Published on
Well, I think this one might just be one of the best books recreating the tragic events that led to the disaster of 2007-2008. Their analysis about "modern finance", involving portfolio theory, VAR theory, and all new derivative markets and managerial shift in finances is short from spectacular.

I loved it, but I must agree is not too easy to digest, even though the authors show they are doing their best.

I recommend it to anyone with (at least) basic knowledge in finances and who's interested in finding out what really went wrong in the latest crisis.
4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Economic Read. 23 May 2011
By pj - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Excellent history of our world economy for the past 300 years. Shows how we got to the present mess and how we might be able to get back to a more healthy economic structure. Recommended to all serious thinkers. I bought a new copy for each of my four sons. That shows how important I think the book is.
4.0 out of 5 stars An appropriate title 26 Nov 2013
By David Holroyd Or Wiens - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The comparison with the amateur economists who nearly brought the entire US into bankruptcy is quite appropriate. The author describes what went wrong and why it went wrong. He also tells how to prevent it from happening again, although this is probably going to be called "politically impossible."
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fire up the WABAC Machine 7 Feb 2013
By John Mccarrier - Published on
The authors provide a comprehensive catalogue of the failures of government involvement in capital markets over the last century but their proposed cures are largely impractical and misguided.

The authors argue for returning to the good old days when investment banking was a gentlemen's of partnerships who ran their firms without worrying about stockholders or government regulators. They also want to do away with deposit insurance and return to the gold standard.

Several of their ideas make more sense and would be easier to implement. Transparency in financial accounting, elimination preferential tax treatment for capital gains, and a tax on financial transactions would be steps in the right direction.
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