Good Reads

These Criminals All Wear Ties

A look behind the subprime scandal that reveals the creepy subhuman behavior that the chase after grand fortune almost inevitably engenders.

By Sam Pizzigati

The Monster book coverMichael Hudson, The Monster: How a Gang of Predatory Lenders and Wall Street Bankers Fleeced America — and Spawned a Global Crisis. Times Books, 2010, 365 pp.

Every night, on almost every TV network, an assortment of low-lifes flash across our screens, robbing and terrorizing innocents and committing all sorts of other mayhem. These low-lifes that populate television’s police procedurals and legal dramas most typically hail from low-income haunts.

Not all TV’s evil-doers, of course, rate as down-and-outers. Crime shows give us miscreants from middle- and even upper-class precincts as well. But these affluents usually come across as fundamentally crazed, psychologically unhinged from the ebb and flow of normal daily existence.

In sum, TV teaches, the people who do us wrong either have some serious screws loose or don’t actually participate in our nation’s ordinary everyday economic life.

This daily TV diet of crime deceives and distorts, and mightily so. In reality, the sum total of crime committed by the sorts of characters TV defines as our criminal class — as measured either in dollars lost or lives destroyed — pales against the sum total of crime committed, in the course of normal U.S. economic life, by perfectly rational people who wear nice suits.

Michael Hudson’s new book, The Monster, takes us where the TV crime shows never do, into “crime scenes” that range from mortgage loan storefronts to Wall Street investment bank executive suites.

Network TV producers apparently don’t see, in these scenes, enough dramatic tension — or comic relief — to sustain a compelling crime show. But the scenes of financial industry fraud Hudson describes would made plenty of must-see TV. 

How about a mortgage firm meeting where the bosses invite their top loan reps — the ones who’ve foisted the most high-cost refinancings onto the vulnerable elderly — to step inside a “money machine,” a booth outfitted with a blower that sends currency swirling up in the air? The lucky loan reps invited into the money machine get to keep all the money they can grab and stuff into their pockets.

Or how about subprime-happy bankers who wink as thugs beat up a public defender working to expose their chicanery? Or the mega-millionaire mortgage king who drives around in a gold Rolls-Royce? Or the financier who hires an all-female staff — to prevent any “interoffice romance” that might distract his underlings from a single-minded focus on money making?

signupThe Monster abounds in scenes like these, as author Hudson deftly traces the “rise and fall of two corporate empires,” the one a subprime mortgage mill known as Ameriquest, the other a Wall Street giant, the now-collapsed Lehman Brothers. Together, these two empires and their rivals spent years creating massive fortunes — for a select few — and massive misery for many millions.

Imagine what might happen if our TV screens, each and every evening, told the stories behind these fortunes and that misery, the stories former Wall Street Journal reporter Michael Hudson tells so well in The Monster. Would any lawmaker ever again dare dub taxes on the rich as attacks against “the successful”?

Who knows? Maybe they would. After all, as Michael Hudson won’t let us forget, the extraordinarily rich can get some people to do almost anything.

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