Most accounts of the recent crisis focus on the symptoms and not the underlying causes of what went wrong. But those events, vivid though they remain in our memories, comprised only the latest in a long series of financial crises since our present system of commerce became the cornerstone of modern capitalism. Alchemy explains why, ultimately, this was and remains a crisis not of banking – even if we need to reform the banking system – nor of policy-making – even if mistakes were made – but of ideas.
In this refreshing and vitally important book, former governor of the Bank of England Mervyn King – an actor in this drama – proposes revolutionary new concepts to answer the central question: are money and banking a form of Alchemy or are they the Achilles heel of a modern capitalist economy?
Industry insider John Kay argues that the finance world’s perceived profitability is not the creation of new wealth, but the sector’s appropriation of wealth – of other people’s money. The financial sector, he shows, has grown too large, detached itself from ordinary business and everyday life, and has become an industry that mostly trades with itself, talks to itself, and judges itself by reference to standards which it has itself generated. And the outside world has itself adopted those standards, bailing out financial institutions that have failed all of us through greed and mismanagement.
We need finance, but today we have far too much of a good thing. In Other People’s Money, John Kay shows, in his inimitable style, what has gone wrong in the dark heart of the finance sector.
Between Debt and the Devil challenges the belief that we need credit growth to fuel economic growth, and that rising debt is okay as long as inflation remains low.
In fact, most credit is not needed for economic growth–but it drives real estate booms and busts and leads to financial crisis and depression. Turner explains why public policy needs to manage the growth and allocation of credit creation, and why debt needs to be taxed as a form of economic pollution. Banks need far more capital, real estate lending must be restricted, and we need to tackle inequality and mitigate the relentless rise of real estate prices. Turner also debunks the big myth about fiat money–the erroneous notion that printing money will lead to harmful inflation. To escape the mess created by past policy errors, we sometimes need to monetize government debt and finance fiscal deficits with central-bank money.
Picking up where Liar’s Poker left off (literally, in the bond dealer’s desks of Salomon Brothers) the story of Long-Term Capital Management is of a group of elite investors who believed they could beat the market and, like alchemists, create limitless wealth for themselves and their partners.
Founded by John Meriweather, a notoriously confident bond dealer, along with two Nobel prize winners and a floor of Wall Street’s brightest and best, Long-Term Captial Management was from the beginning hailed as a new gold standard in investing. It was to be the hedge fund to end all other hedge funds: a discreet private investment club limited to those rich enough to pony up millions.
It became the banks’ own favourite fund and from its inception achieved a run of dizzyingly spectacular returns. New investors barged each other aside to get their investment money into LTCM’s hands. But as competitors began to mimic Meriweather’s fund, he altered strategy to maintain the fund’s performance, leveraging capital with credit on a scale not fully understood and never seen before.
When the markets in Indonesia, South America and Russia crashed in 1998 LCTM’s investments crashed with them and mountainous debts accumulated. The fund was in melt-down, and threatening to bring down into its trillion-dollar black hole a host of financial instiutions from New York to Switzerland. It’s a tale of vivid characters, overwheening ambition, and perilous drama told, in Roger Lowenstein’s hands, with brilliant style and panache.