What happens when nations are given unlimited money and told that no one is watching what they do with it? This is the central theme of Boomerang where Michael Lewis tries to explore the rationale behind why different countries behaved the way they did during boom and bust of 2008.
Fascinating! I am always amazed by Michael Lewis’s ability to find interesting stories from the corners that normally will be overlooked. Boomerang is a sort of sequel to The Big Short, which I enjoyed thoroughly. Having experienced the panic of 2008 firsthand, I have been since interested in understanding why entire nations went overboard and all the regulators slept behind the wheels. Lewis tries to explain this. He travelled to Iceland, Greece, Ireland and Germany to understand their behaviour during this period. According to him, what happened in 2008 is not the cause but a symptom and there is something terribly wrong in the way societies think and behave. Government relief programmes have only delayed the inevitable. He writes – “European leaders have done nothing but delay the inevitable reckoning, by scrambling every few months to find cash to plug the ever growing holes in Greece, Ireland and Portugal, and praying that bigger and more alarming holes in Spain, Italy and even France do not reveal themselves.”
He elucidates that – The credit wasn’t just money, it was temptation. It offered entire societies the chance to reveal aspects of their characters they could not normally afford to indulge. Entire countries were told, “The lights are out, you can do whatever you want to do and no one will ever know.” What they wanted to do with money in the dark varied. Americans wanted to own homes far larger than they could afford, and to allow the strong to exploit the weak. Icelanders wanted to stop fishing and become investment bankers, and to allow their alpha males to reveal a theretofore-suppressed megalomania. The Germans wanted to be even more German; the Irish wanted to stop being Irish. All these different societies were touched by the same event, but each responded to it in its own peculiar way.
Lewis has a talent to make arcane financial stuff lucid and interesting. His tales normally revolve around rank outsiders who saw the reckoning before it became obvious to others. Unfortunately, they have more to profit from the doom than by blowing the whistle. Boomerang perhaps tries to oversimplify the complex ways in which human mind and thus entire nations function. It can also be accused of generalising entire societies, but it still is a fascinating read.
Thank you for reading. I appreciate your time.
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My other reviews of Michael Lewis’s books –