The Finance Curse is the reason I will not achieve my 2019 GoodReads Reading Challenge of 200 books, but it was worth it. This is a very detailed review of the myriad ways the finance industry is undermining democracy, good government, and the economy. It is a well-known truism that resource-dependent economies enrich those in power, impoverish the rest, and tend toward authoritarianism. Russia and its oligarchy are a perfect example of a petrostate of corruption and authoritarian rule by corrupt leaders. Nicholas Shaxson makes the argument that this happens in countries whose economices are dominated by finance as well and he proves his point.

So what happens to economies that become financialized. The finance, insurance, and real estate economic sectors explode, this is where finance happens, not in manufacturing. The point of finance becomes extracting value, not creating it. Companies are bought to take on debt, have their assets stripped, their employees laid off, and then allowed to go bankrupt. Asset mining is more profitable than making things. Worse, the ideology of finance become internalized in the culture, so people nod approvingly while their pockets are picked.

Shaxon meticulously documents how finance became such an international juggernaut and how it has completely gutted many industries, shuttering newspapers and family farms along the way. It seems they will roll through industry after industry, cannibalizing the productive side of the economy to feed the greed of financiers whose hunger for wealth is infinite.

I think The Finance Curse is one of those important books everyone who cares about democracy should read. I also think few will invest the time. I am a fast reader and it took me two weeks to read this. While nearly a fourth of its 384 pages are footnotes, the prose is dense with detail. Then it is also so depressing that I had to put it down after each chapter to shake off the despair.

What makes it even more despairing is that so little of the book is devoted to ways to address the plague of financialization and the suggestions are weak sauce. Campaign finance reform is offered as this unversal panacea, but fighting financialization requires far more than getting money out of politics.

Financialization is a cultural blight. An entire section of every major newspaper devotes itself to the business of finance with the premise that what’s good for finance is good for the country. There is no such attention for labor or industry. Finance is the be all and end all of the economy. The health of Wall Street is proof the economy is working even though wages are stagnant, bankruptcies increase, and homelessness is rampant. How the country serves the needs of finance has become more important than how it serves the people, not just to the government, but to the public. Farmers who have declared bankruptcy still think the economy must be good because the Dow broke a new record. Finance has not just captured the government and the economy, it has captured the culture. We need cultural weapons to fight a cultural cancer.

I received a copy of The Finance Curse from the publisher through Edelweiss.

The Finance Curse at Grove Press

Nicholas Shaxson on Twitter