Mapping the Meltdown (And Some Possible Exits)

Posted by Bobbi Murray on April 3, 2009

If you’ve ever had occasion in your life to stop and ask yourself “How did I end up HERE?” you already know you don’t say that when good things are happening.

Listening to economic news lately is the same thingĖso many “billions” and “trillions” thrown around — you might feel just a little queasy as you ask — how did we get here?

The Nation magazine and Nation Books have come up with a fairly palatable way to answer the awful question in a collection of articles called Meltdown: How Greed and Corruption Shattered Our Financial System and How We Can Recover.

The editors — Nation editor and publisher Katrina Vanden Huevel listed as lead author — organized a book of articles from The Nation that charts the entire meltdown, from its origins through possible ways out.

Meltdown has four parts: Seeds of Disaster; Alarm Bells; The Crisis Hits and Road to Recovery.

Disclosure here — the book came to my attention via the U.S. Postal Service when it arrived along with a letter thanking me for my contribution. My piece, “Hunting the Predators,” about how predatory mortgage lending works and the way it has enriched Wall Street, appears in the first section.

Meltdown illustrates a central truth: for all the Wall Streetersí wide-eyed, forehead-smacking who-coulda-seen-it-coming denials after the collapse, the signals were actually out there writ large — especially if you peered through the green-tinted goggles of the wonks and money guys who manipulated the financial vehicles that led to our current state of ruin.

The book details the big money shell-game that was sub-prime mortgage lending, how Wall Street made a killing and how it led to economic collapse.

Meltdown’s bite-size bits are less daunting than a full-on tome about the current economic wreckage, with a variety of perspectives and voices.

Venerable economics and politics journalist William Greider provides the introduction and many articles, including a satisfying takedown of Alan Greenspan that neatly lays out Greenspanís retro policies and ideology.

Barbara Ehrenreich, famed for Nickeled and Dimed, the award-winning book that gave a visceral account of trying to survive on mind-deadening minimum wage jobs, supplies a piece or two. One of her pieces, “Smashing Capitalism,” she observes “...this may be the first case in history in which the downtrodden bring down an unfair economic system without going through the trouble of a revolution.”

Instead, she says, they stopped paying mortgages (because they couldnít make the note on the trick mortgages) and the whole thing imploded.

Thomas Frank, author of What’s The Matter With Kansas, looks at market populism — the canard that says markets implicitly express the will of the people — and how central it was to the economic culture that led to the meltdown.

In one of the several articles he contributes, Doug Henwood, editor of the Left Business Observer, scrutinizes the workings of the Federal Reserve, one of those institutions that seems too esoteric to contemplate until Henwood breaks it down in a few pithy pages.

Walter Mosley, author of two mystery series (one of them starring L.A.‘s own Easy Rawlins) and a recipient of so many awards and honors — just Google him — contributes a sharp and poignant piece that suggests a new definition of class in a country that blithely accepts the myth that we are all middle-class.

Brooklyn author Kai Wright does some great on-the-ground reporting about the human toll of predatory lending in Georgia.

And economist Robert Pollin is among those who offer rational and readable plans to bail us out of the mess. Investing in infrastructure — especially if it’s green — is a way out, he says. Pollin advises investment in areas that strengthen the economy in the long-run, create a big burst of employment and directly engages global warming.

That’s just a quick pass at all the writers and themes in the book. The subject of economic meltdown is not particularly approachable, especially if you yourself are caught in the awful slide. But the Meltdown paperback, ever-so-portable at 7×5 inches, certainly is, and a good way to wade into an analysis of the mess.

First, of course, take three good, long, deep breaths and relax. It’s gonna be a long haul.

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