Liar’s Poker: Rising Through the Wreckage on Wall Street
by Michael Lewis
WW Norton (1989)
Like many of Lewis’s post-collapse books, this early memoir is simultaneously funny and educational. As with The Big Short and The Flash Boys (see Wall Street: More Deeply Corrupt than We Thought), my favorite aspect was the colorful personalities of the investment bankers Lewis worked with at Saloman Brothers between 1985-1988.
Like Lewis’s more recent books, Liar’s Poker teaches us a lot about the seamy side of Wall Street and investment banking.
Theoretically Saloman Brothers specialized in selling bonds, ie corporate bonds to finance corporate debt, Treasury bonds to finance federal debt and in their latter years mortgage bonds (bonds that enabled savings and loan associations to raise money to finance mortgages). In reality Saloman Brothers made most of their money “trading” mortgage bonds, ie encouraging investors to speculate in purchasing bonds in the hope their value would increase.
As Lewis describes it, he worked in a totally immoral environment in which traders routinely screwed over their clients to increase Saloman profits and their personal bonuses.
The chapter I found most enlightening concerns the role of the Federal Reserve in the collapse of the savings and loan industry in the late eighties.
I also enjoyed the chapter about junk bond* king Michael Milken. Despite Lewis’s obvious admiration for Milken, the latter would be indicted in 1990 for insider trading and racketeering. In return for testifying against former colleagues, the junk bond king was allowed to plead guilty to securities and reporting violations. Sentenced to ten years in federal prison, he only served two.
*Junk bonds are bonds issued by corporations determined to be high credit risks (unlike to repay their debts) by credit rating agencies, such as Moody’s and Standard and Poor.
The first video is a 2015 presentation by William Engdahl about his 2010 book The Gods of Money. It focuses on the use of US economic and military warfare to maintain the supremacy of the US dollar as the global reserve currency.
As his point of departure, he begins with the 1944 Bretton Woods agreement, in which the Allied powers agreed to use the gold-backed US dollar as the world’s reserve currency. In 1971 when Nixon was forced to end the gold standard,* the gold-backed US dollar was replaced by the “petrodollar.” According to Engdahl, it was so named because of a secret agreement the US made with Saudi Arabia – in return for a guarantee that OPEC would only trade oil in US dollars, the US guaranteed the Saudis unlimited military hardware.
In this way, oil importing nations (most of the world) were forced to retain substantial US dollar reserves. This was the only way they could provide their economies with a continuous supply of oil.
The petrodollar remained supreme until the mid-1980s, when the collapse of the US Savings and Loan industry (a pre-cursor of the 2007 banking collapse) raised concerns in Europe that the US was failing as a super power. Fearing the US economy was collapsing, they created the euro and the Eurozone, to prevent the Soviet Union or China from filling the power vacuum.
The financial warfare unit of the US treasury responded by feeding hedge fund manager and currency speculator George Soros secret information that enabled him to lead an attack on the British pound. This, in turn, destabilized the British economy to the point the UK no longer qualified to join the euro.
In 1997 the US Treasury and Soros made a a similar attack on economies of Southeast Asia (Thailand, South Korea, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines) that attempted to use currencies other than the dollar as their reserve currencies.
In 2010, after the US government had run three years of $1 trillion deficits, China, Russia and Japan announced their intention of selling US Treasury bonds (which the US government sells to finance its debt) to increase their euro reserves. Concerned this placed the US dollar on the brink of catastrophic collapse, the US Treasury and Soros attacked the Euro directly by collapsing the Greek economy. The mechanism Soros used was to direct his hedge funds to dump the sovereign treasury bonds that financed Greek debt.** When the European Central Bank announced its commitment to a Greek bail-out, the US Treasury and Soros followed up with an attack on Irish, Spanish and Portuguese sovereign bonds.
*A US economic crisis led to massive foreign demand for US dollar redemption that threatened to deplete US gold reserves.
** The immediate effect of bondholders dumping Greek bonds raised interest rates on Greek debt to a level that threatened to bankrupt their government.
The second clip is a Guns and Butter radio interview with Engdahl. It focuses on a second area the Gods of Money covers, namely the long US battle to abolish their private central bank (aka the Federal Reserve) and end the ability of private banks to create money out of thin air (see How Banks Create Money Out of Thin Air).
After a brief explanation of fractional reserve banking, whereby 97% of our money is created by private banks, Engdahl traces the history of the First Bank of the United States, created by Alexander Hamilton in 1791. The latter was the first US central bank, 80% owned by private (mostly Rothschild-controlled) banks in the City of London and 20% owned by the US government. President James Madison’s refusal to renew the bank’s charter in 1811 would result in Britain and the US going to war in 1812.
When the war ended in 1815, the American war debt was so substantial, the US had no choice but to charter the Second Bank of the United States, which once again was 80% controlled by London banks.
In 1832, Andrew Jackson refused to renew the bank’s charter, and the US had no central bank between 1832 and 1913. In 1913 when President Woodrow Wilson secretly colluded with the global banking establishment to create the Federal Reserve.
Both Lincoln and Kennedy challenged the exclusive role private banks play in creating the US money supply – Lincoln by issuing greenbacks (rather than borrowing money from private banks) to pay for the civil war and Kennedy by issuing silver certificates directly redeemable by the US Treasury. In both cases, Engdahl feels their defiance of the international banking establishment played a role in the decision to assassinate them.