Mobs, Messiahs, And Markets: Surviving The Public Spectacle In Finance And Politics, by William Bonner and Lila Rajiva
At the beginning of the book, there is a preface that seeks to explain that this book will never win a Nobel Prize because it is readable. That said, this book is also more than a bit prophetic, in that it warns of the unsustainable nature of debt and the rise of property prices just before the great recession hit. To be sure, there is a lot of insight that one can gain from a book like this, including a high degree of skepticism for those whose overly simplistic views of the world lead them to think of themselves as being fit to mold the world into the image of their own ideologies, something that has been a critical problem in the West since at least the Enlightenment. This book comes with a large amount of snark, and as a fairly snarky person I do not have a problem with that. That said, there are going to be people who are offended by a book like this and are not going to bother to read it to recognize that it has a lot of insight along with a large amount of disrespect for authorities in politics and economics within the contemporary and historical world.
Coming in at about 400 pages of material, this book is divided into six parts and seventeen chapters. The book begins with a three chapter critique of impure reason that demonstrates the way that our reasoning processes go awry (I), including chapters on do-gooders gone bad (1), evolutionary explanations for why people’s behavior goes crazy (2), and discussions of astrological influence (3). After that the authors spend a couple of chapters talking about how mobs go awry (II), including a chapter on witch hunts (4) and another on jingoistic war scares (5). Then the authors turn their attention to militant messiah figures (III), with chapters on the issue of war and memory (6), the way that empires are built on a lot of delusions (7), and the negative side of supposed revolutionary heroes (8) of the left. The fourth part of the book then turns its attention to attacking Thomas Friedman’s view of the flattening of the world (IV) with a discussion of the problem of numbers (9), what flat earth arguments ignore (10), and problems involving trade (11). After that the author looks at the problem of bubbles (V), with chapters on the end of the bubble (12), million dollar trailers (13), central bank frauds (14), and the beginnings of the problem of the current bubble (15). Finally, the authors end with a discussion of avoiding the mobs (VI) that encourages one to avoid being a chump of Wall Street (16), and the way that we are duped by our hearts (17), after which there are notes and an index.
What made this book funny to me is that it matched both my own snark as well as contained some of the same sorts of observations about the property bubble that I had noticed while watching By Owner on local television in Florida for fun and laughing about trailers worth a million dollars because of the value of the land they were on. For those of us caught in areas where restrictions on property development artificially inflate the value of property, as is the case in much of the Portland area, this book is a reminder that folly is sometimes easier to see than it is easier to counteract, and the authors’ advice to be far away from mobs and foolish crowds is sage advice. The authors may not win any Nobel prizes for their economic research, but that is not due to a lack of quality but rather a lack of the sense of decorum that they operate with. Indeed, that lack of decorum is the only negative I can say about the book as a whole, with the note that I hope that this generally rude attitude does not prevent a reader from grasping the sage wisdom about human folly in economics and politics that the book contains.