Friday, January 7, 2011

Taibbi, Griftopia

There’s something for everyone to vehemently disagree with in Matt Taibbi’s Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con That Is Breaking America (Spiegel & Grau, 2010). In case the author’s name doesn’t immediately ring a bell, he’s the journalist who wrote the famous/infamous piece on Goldman Sachs in Rolling Stone.

It’s not just that Taibbi writes about controversial topics in a categorical, over-the-top way. He also leaves manners (and literary restraint) outside the door of his writing studio. For instance, his chapter on Alan Greenspan is entitled “The Biggest Asshole in the Universe.” He describes Greenspan’s rise as “a tale of a gerbilish mirror-gazer who flattered and bullshitted his way up the Matterhorn of American power and then, once he got to the top, feverishly jacked himself off to the attentions of Wall Street for twenty consecutive years—in the process laying the intellectual foundation for a generation of orgiastic greed and overconsumption and turning the Federal Reserve into a permanent bailout mechanism for the super-rich.”

Taibbi takes on the Tea Party, the mortgage scam, the commodities bubble, sovereign wealth funds, health care reform, and (in an update to his Stone piece) Goldman Sachs. To say he is no friend of big business, especially not of Wall Street, would be an understatement. Government doesn’t come off much better: “government is a slavish lapdog that the financial companies … use as a tool for making money.”

Even though there’s much to dislike in this book, it’s definitely worth reading. First, Taibbi did a lot of research; you’ll find material that is not readily available elsewhere. Second, he can occasionally be wickedly funny. I suggest you save it for a day when you’re really annoyed with the markets and are looking for a reason to blame whatever happened to your portfolio on rich and powerful grifters.

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