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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The high road or the low road, 29 Mar 2010
By 
Richard Whelan (Ireland) - See all my reviews
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The Trouble with Markets: Saving Capitalism From Itself,
Nicholas Brealey Publishing

Review by Richard Whelan

We are at a crossroads worldwide. One road requires a massive cleanout of old ideas and people, a new paradigm for our financial markets. We need a better understanding of economics and finance as well as a significant increase in consumption in Asia to lift us out of our current depression into a hopeful recovery phase.

But if we don't take the high road, the low road will take us back to the 1930s, generated out of a total collapse of confidence in democracy itself. It is a deep irony of the current economic/financial quagmire that the cheerleaders in Goldman Sachs, AIG, etc who brought the free market capitalist system to its knees, could turn into the "useless idiots" (to paraphrase Lenin) who in their denial of their role in these multiple failures, could deliver the coup de grace to the system itself. The growing chorus of those who think the current democratic system cannot solve these problems, and who point to the need for a "Chinese model", may be the first signpost on this lower road. If you think such an eventuality is inconceivable, impossible, or unlikely you really do need to read this book.

Bootle is one of the City of London's best-known economists and commentators having worked in or around the financial markets since 1978. He has challenged prevailing orthodoxy frequently, his 2003 book Money for Nothing correctly anticipating the current financial crisis.

He takes no prisoners in setting out how we got into the current mess: "The Great Implosion has laid bare several different kinds of failing. First, it has revealed just how fragile the financial system is. Second, it has demonstrated the markets' excessive risk-taking. Third, it has shown how bloated the financial sector has become. Fourth, it has exhibited a failure of the market with regard to the setting of executive remuneration in general, and pay in the financial sector in particular. Fifth, it has uncovered a deep-seated failure of the corporate system, arising from the separation between owners and managers..."

He is not afraid to point the finger at his own caste - not just the bankers, developers, or regulators - but the economists who he shows are ultimately responsible. Particularly those based in Chicago university (and influenced by the philosopher and novelist Ayn Rand) , they went out of their way to emasculate the lessons of Keynes and led the way in popularising worldwide the key underlying ideas and beliefs that got us into this mess: that markets are efficient and know best; that there is no need to be concerned at the level or structure of financial market remuneration; that bubbles cannot happen; that human beings behave rationally in economic and financial matters; and finally that excessive savings in Asia are not a problem.

The Madoff scandal is a prime example of the efficient markets theory in action. Supposedly sophisticated investment houses (HSBC, Santander, Bramdean, etc etc) got it totally wrong, assuming that someone else in the market had done the required due diligence (they hadn't), and/ or that they could follow the other sophisticated investors who invested with Madoff, and/or that if there was any issues the regulators would have picked it up. And so they charged huge fees for doing nothing.

We now face an extended period of weakness, a Depression, with the possibility of seriously damaging deflation, as the root cause, the underlying imbalances, still has not been sorted out. Simply put the West has been and is living beyond its means on borrowings from the East (particularly, but not exclusively, China).
But why did all this happen now?

Bootle attributes it to two key factors that were ignored -- the lessons of Keynes and the way human nature really works in economic and financial matters. Both are interlinked. The lessons of Keynes in three areas are now being relearned by most economists and unfortunately by the rest of us: economic activity is permeated by fundamental uncertainty; thus many of the major factors that hit the economy are psychological and depend critically on the level of confidence, which is not readily analyzable or predictable; consequently the modern economy is inherently unstable and fragile, particularly in a globalised world with instant communications of good and bad news.

This leads Bootle to a conclusion which is clearly correct, but only dimly being understood now by investors, members of pension schemes, and property owners. There is no determinate value for "real wealth". How wealthy a country is depends on its feelings and expectations. So far from being real, real wealth is in fact completely psychological: " Our wealth is simply what we collectively think it is. As such, it can go up and down with our whims and emotions-and it does." As he brilliantly puts it, is now well past the time when we should lay "Homo Economicus" to rest.

Noting Keynes famous aphorism that "the market can stay irrational for longer than you can stay solvent", Bootle shows how one can survive the downturn and prosper in the hoped for recovery. He quantifies the likely movements in house prices (for Ireland a fall of apparently something between 50% and 60%) with an eventual 15% temporary price drop below fair value. He clearly does not think a Nama- type solution will succeed - it breeds uncertainty and a lack of confidence, which inhibits recovery, leaving the taxpayer effectively holding the banks' liabilities but not fully sharing in the upside.

He predicts low interest rates for some time, notes the dangers of corporate bonds and the risks to indexed bonds, the attractiveness of equities (other than the US) longer term but possibly not now, with their performance fundamentally dependent on how the world and local economies develop (which is very uncertain).
He does not see commodities as a good bet for a number of reasons including his expectation of how China will develop, and possible restrictions on using commodities as a vehicle for investment.

Finally here his key moral is that minimising charges and costs on all investments is not some marginal extra but the sine qua non of successful investing. The other side of this cost issue is the investment industry which he sees as due for a shakeup, too many people earning too much money, and delivering poor service to their clients.

There is much else in this must- read book if you wish to understand our likely future.

(Richard Whelan is a commentator on international financial and political affairs
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A sound analysis - but written for Americans?, 3 Jan 2010
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Roger Bootle is a seasoned City commentator, well known to many of us from the 1980s Big Bang era in which the present crisis has its roots. A clear thinker, Roger Bootle has maintained an independent and at times openly critical view of the crass herd mentality so prevalent for so long in banking / politics.

This is a well written and fairly concise book that accurately defines the present economic mess, analyses the causes and, crucially, puts forward practical, workable solutions. However, the book is marred to some extent by the publisher's decision to use American English throughout combined with references to "the man in Peoria, Illinois" and suchlike, presumably in a bid to boost its appeal to our friends across the pond. For those of us who know the author as a quintessentially English economist, this can at times be a little irritating - and is a touch ironic given the fact that it was the British establishment's unquestioning embrace of recklessly aggressive, winner-takes-all American cowboy finance, that precipitated the 2007/09 `Great Implosion'.

The author reminds us of the obvious (but widely overlooked) fact that markets have significant imperfections and failures. This in turn raises grave doubts as to the wisdom of government policy over the last 20 years of applying the `market knows best' model indiscriminately to broader society and to natural monopolies such as household energy supplies and railways. Perhaps the supreme irony is that the grotesque levels of `compensation' and obscene City bonuses are only made possible thanks to the profound imperfections in financial markets - i.e. a lack of competition, lack of transparency, insider trading and other distortions in the market structure of investment banking / trading / M&A etc. Similar market imperfects have allowed directors and senior managers to run large PLCs as personal fiefdoms at the expense of employees and customers.

Bootle's views are very much in line with those other honest economic thinkers of our time, Vince Cable and Will Hutton, who have likewise warned about the train crash of asset bubbles and casino banking for many years. The author doesn't shy away from explaining the corrosive effects on society as a whole of the cynical bonus culture and short-term, get-rich-quick mentality. However, there is perhaps a little too much blame apportioned to the Chinese for building up their strong export industries and accumulating massive trade surpluses, rather than blaming the debt-fuelled consumer binge mentality in the US/UK. The UK would do better to look to Germany and France as successful economic role models with their strong manufacturing industries and less reliance on financial engineering.

The author questions the received wisdom that City trading is a wealth creating activity that somehow benefits us all. He explains that City trading more often results in a win/lose outcome simply redistributing wealth into the hands of the few at the expense of institutions such as pension funds charged with investing ordinary people's savings, raking off huge commissions in the process.

Finally, the book asks how willing politicians will be in future to extricate the country from over-reliance on casino banking when the tentacles of international banking have become so deeply entwined into government at the highest levels with an alarming number of MPs in some way on the financial industry's payroll. We can only hope that those in power are able to look beyond lining their own pockets and awaken from the lazy Thatcher/Blair `market knows best' doctrine that has lost Britain most of its manufacturing industry (e.g. the mooted 2010 sell-off/ break up/close down of Cadburys). Let's hope that government takes note of the road map that Bootle has sketched out in some detail for economic revival and a more balanced, less corrupt society.
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought-provoking and insightful, 19 Oct 2009
By 
Nicola Davidson (London) - See all my reviews
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This is the most insightful and well-argued book that has surely yet appeared on the recent financial crisis. Roger Botle is arguably this country's leading economist and his detailed and thought-provoking analysis and conclusions are a must for anyone with a degree of interest in understanding the recent economic problems that have affected us all. Clearly written, logical and compelling, you do not need to be an economics guru to understand and enjoy this excellent book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent financial exposition of our present predicament, 2 Dec 2011
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I love Roger Bootle's Monday column in the Daily Telegraph, so bought his book which takes you to October 2011. He sifts the evidence, comparing similar events in the last 100 years and exposes how wrong financial experts can be and explains the possible outcomes. He does not pull his punches, explains things well, though I did need to check the meanings of his less common words.
I certainly have a better understanding of what is going on as a result and commend it to those who want to try to understand what is happening to us, to Europe and to the World economy as a whole, and why it is happening!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bootle fan, 12 Aug 2011
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I am a Roger Bootle fan in the first instance so there is a sort of self affirming aspect of reviewing any of his books.

I purchased this a while ago and recently revisited it as a light holiday read. It is well written, easy to follow and provides a typically Bootle non-consensus view on the world.

Thoroughly recommend.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Revealing insider's guide on how to fix the broken financial markets, 19 April 2010
By 
Rolf Dobelli "getAbstract" (Switzerland) - See all my reviews
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You could call Roger Bootle a self-hating economist. In this trenchant study, he takes ruthless aim at fellow economists and financial professionals for allowing the financial markets to run amok. Despite his status as a City of London insider, Bootle mauls bankers for collecting overly rich paychecks and bashes investment advisers for their general cluelessness. While Bootle isn't the only observer to arrive at the conclusion that the markets are broken and that free-market ideology is wrong, his sophisticated understanding of finance makes his arguments especially astute. getAbstract recommends this intriguing book to investors and policymakers seeking a thoughtful prescription for Wall Street and the City.
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4.0 out of 5 stars The Trouble With Makets, 8 Dec 2012
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This review is from: The Trouble With Markets (Kindle Edition)
An easy to read review of recent economic events reminding us that uncertainty cannot be reduced by smart mathematics and fancy formulas.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great book, 30 Jan 2012
By 
dunstan (Lincolnshire, England) - See all my reviews
I know Roger Bootle by reputation from his articles in the Telegraph, which are always balanced and backed up with evidence, not just broadcasting his opinion. Let's hope that the politicians, bankers and regulators read it and implement some of the ideas to reshape the system to reduce the risk of meltdown happening in the future.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The trouble with Markets, 28 Nov 2011
Roger Bootle is very perceptive about the current crisis and what has gone wrong with the Economics Profession, if I may call it that. He tends to be verbose.
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The Trouble With Markets by Roger Bootle
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