Saturday, July 28, 2012

Review of Neil Barofsky's "Bailout"

This is my review of Neil Barofsky's recent book "Bailout: An Inside Account of How Washington Abandoned Main Street While Rescuing Wall Street."

Neil Barofsky's book describes his work as the Special Inspector General for TARP, the controversial $700B program begun in the G.W. Bush administration and considered one of the most complex bailouts in US history. Several years since TARP slipped out of the headlines, we still have little clarity about the complicated tangle of investments that it thrust upon the market. This book provides a clear account of the government's hastily cobbled oversight of the program.

The book is well structured and balanced. Beginning with an introduction full of engaging anecdotes, Barofsky's narrative provides adequate assurance that his motives are transparent and nonpartisan. Then, we learn about the TARP program in a thorough but not excessively technical manner. Unfolding as a credible, personal account, the book begs for a closer look at the government's financial oversight functions, and sheds some light on the Treasury's relationships with the "too big to fail" institutions in today's headlines. Perhaps most important, Barofsky's book implicitly argues for appointment of many more professionals such as himself, who don't aspire to become Washington insiders.

On a personal level, Barofsky's book describes a trial-by-fire in Washington, a place where so many young idealists lose their ethical footing as they gradually integrate into the well-established mechanics of the city. Thanks perhaps to the brevity of his stint, Barofsky can provide this frank account, which is at times unsettling, at other times humorous... and on the whole very informative.

Here is the Amazon link to the book:

Bailout: An Inside Account of How Washington Abandoned Main Street While Rescuing Wall Street

1 comment:

  1. Great review - I'm glad you posted it.

    It reminded me a tiny bit of a book Karen Ho wrote called "Liquidated: An Ethnography of Wall Street," which is an anthropological analysis of investment bankers. In it, she describes how the investment bankers' perspective trickled over to corporate America. That is, the increasing perspective that "employees are liquid" stems from the investment bankers, who work 18-hour days and are regularly laid off, and how this has come to influence the CEOs they advise. She also talks about the impact the drive towards shareholder value has had on CEOs and their sense of responsibility (or lack thereof) to their employees.
    My comment here may sound like the Communist Manifesto, but I mention the book because I think the impact of Wall Street on everyday people's lives is underestimated.