Chelsea Green Publishing

The Looting of America

eBook: 9781603582223
Pub. Date June 02, 2009

The Looting of America

How Wall Street's Game of Fantasy Finance Destroyed Our Jobs, Pensions, and Prosperity—and What We Can Do about It

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eBook

Available Date:
June 02, 2009

$14.95 $11.96

How could the best and brightest (and most highly paid) in finance crash the global economy and then get us to bail them out as well? What caused this mess in the first place? Housing? Greed? Dumb politicians? What can Main Street do about it?

In The Looting of America, Leopold debunks the prevailing media myths that blame low-income home buyers who got in over their heads, people who ran up too much credit-card debt, and government interference with free markets. Instead, readers will discover how Wall Street undermined itself and the rest of the economy by playing and losing at a highly lucrative and dangerous game of fantasy finance.

He also asks some tough questions:

  • Why did Americans let the gap between workers' wages and executive compensation grow so large?
  • Why did we fail to realize that the excess money in those executives' pockets was fueling casino-style investment schemes?
  • Why did we buy the notion that too-good-to-be-true financial products that no one could even understand would somehow form the backbone of America's new, postindustrial economy?
  • How do we make sure we never give our wages away to gamblers again?
  • And what can we do to get our money back?

In this page-turning narrative (no background in finance required) Leopold tells the story of how we fell victim to Wall Street's exotic financial products. Readers learn how even school districts were taken in by "innovative" products like collateralized debt obligations, better known as CDOs, and how they sucked trillions of dollars from the global economy when they failed. They'll also learn what average Americans can do to ensure that fantasy finance never rules our economy again.

As the country teeters on the brink of what could be the next Great Depression, we should be especially wary of the so-called financial experts who got us here, and then conveniently got themselves out. So far, it appears they've won the battle, but The Looting of America refuses to let them write the history--or plan its aftermath.

REVIEWS AND PRAISE

"I loved this book. A worms'-eye dissection of the Wall Street crisis from a very sharp and very knowledgeable labor economist. Here's hoping that before the Washington consensus gets set in stone, policymakers will read it and reflect on the havoc the masters of the universe have wreaked on ordinary people."--Charles Morris, author of The Trillion Dollar Meltdown: Easy Money, High Rollers, and the Great Credit Crash and Money, Greed, and Risk: Why Financial Crises and Crashes Happen

"Les Leopold tells the story of our economic collapse so clearly, so broadly, so stylishly I didn't get lost; in fact, to my great surprise, I kept going and going like Hansel and Gretel through the thick forest of mortgage finance, credit swaps, bubbles and bailouts. The Looting of America is a guided tour for people who wonder if the ups and downs of a free market are inevitable, or if we can't make a few changes for a smoother ride."--Robert Krulwich, NPR Science Correspondent and co-host of Radio Lab

"Les Leopold has given an entertaining account of the growth of the derivative market that supported the housing bubble during the last decade, and offers useful recommendations for avoiding the next bubble-and-bust. He is one of the few observers to have understood how today's crisis has roots going back three decades, and to have seen how it connects to the upward redistribution of income over this period."--Dean Baker, Co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research and author of Plunder and Blunder: The Rise and Fall of the Bubble Economy

"Les Leopold's book is a cogent, clear, and compelling explanation of how Wall Street's Big Casino wrecked the economy. I might not agree with all of his provocative proposals, but so what? This book is a fun read, despite the sickening scenario it describes."--Jonathan Alter, Senior Editor and Columnist at Newsweek and author of the bestselling book The Defining Moment: FDR's 100 Days and the Triumph of Hope

"Les Leopold's account of the economic crisis is the clearest and most accessible that I have seen. It gives a reader with little economics or financial background a riveting description of how Wall Street tore down our economy and what we can do about it. It's a page turner we all should read."--Leo Gerard, International President of the United Steelworkers

"[A]n excellent new book that takes a broader view and offers broader solutions... I recommend adding [it] to any financial shenanigans reading list."--David Swanson, AfterDowningStreet.org

"Finally, here's a book that really lays out in plain English how Wall Street's fictional financial engineering caused the current crisis and what needs to be changed. This compelling and highly entertaining story will both anger and animate you. It takes us into the most lucrative casino ever created and shows how it laid waste to our jobs and our savings--and it provides strong remedies to repay and protect Main Street from the damage done."--Carolyn Mugar, Executive Director, Farm Aid

"If you want to know why it was necessary to give over a trillion dollars to big banks and insurance companies over the last year, Les Leopold's new book is for you... Leopold manages to explain the most complex shenanigans of finance capital in language the average worker can understand. To keep us [from] going off the deep end into despair, he sheathes the sharpest edges with some humor."--Bill Onasch, Labor Advocate Online

"The Looting of America is an insightful analysis of how we got 'hit.' It is packed with data and background information and explores the pros and cons of the options before us, from those 'Wall Street won't like' to those 'Wall Street really won't like'."--John Perkins, author of Confessions of an Economic Hit Man and The Secret History of the American Empire

"Because the financial collapse was built on with so many intricate scams, regular Americans often find themselves intimidated by the sheer complexity. But at bottom, it was a case of insiders taking advantage. Les Leopold has performed a virtuoso service by explaining the economic mess in terms that ordinary people can grasp, in this wonderful and terrifying book."--Robert Kuttner, co-editor of The American Prospect and author of Obama's Challenge

Library Journal-
Leopold (founding director, Labor Inst. & Public Health Inst.; The Man Who Hated Work and Loved Labor) spends much of this text providing an excellent "lemonade stand" explanation of the history and mechanics of the various mortgage-related securities and their derivatives that have come under scrutiny as a result of the current financial crisis. Many readers will find the simplicity of this exercise a welcome parry to the mass media refrain that only the most highly trained Wall Street professionals can comprehend these financial instruments. The Whitefish Bay, WI, school board's foray into these unregulated markets supplies Leopold with a suitably disastrous example of how such securities and derivatives multiplied exponentially the losses resulting from the mortgage default surge that began in 2007. Verdict Leopold uses the Whitefish Bay study to good effect. Although he doesn't fulfill the promise of the subtitle in any special way, his clear and basic explanations will at least help readers understand the financial jargon bandied about so readily over the last couple of years.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Les Leopold

After attending Oberlin College and Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs (MPA 1975), Les cofounded and currently directs two non-profit educational organizations: The Labor Institute (1976) and the Public Health Institute (1986). He designs research and educational programs on occupational safety and health, the environment and economics. He is now helping to form an alliance between the United Steel Workers Union and the Sierra Club. He is the author of The Man Who Hated Work and Loved Labor (2007), and The Looting of America (2009).


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The Man Who Hated Work and Loved Labor

The Man Who Hated Work and Loved Labor

By Les Leopold

A CIA-connected labor union, an assassination attempt, a mysterious car crash, listening devices, and stolen documents--everything you'd expect from the latest thriller. Yet, this was the reality of Tony Mazzocchi, the Rachel Carson of the U.S. workplace; a dynamic labor leader whose legacy lives on in today's workplaces and ongoing alliances between labor activists and environmentalists, and those who believe in the promise of America.

In The Man Who Hated Work and Loved Labor: The Life and Times of Tony Mazzocchi, author and labor expert Les Leopold recounts the life of the late Oil, Chemical, and Atomic Workers Union leader. Mazzocchi's struggle to address the unconscionable toxic exposure of tens of thousands of workers led to the passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act and included work alongside nuclear whistleblower Karen Silkwood. His noble, high-profile efforts forever changed working conditions in American industry--and made him enemy number one to a powerful few.

As early as the 1950s, when the term "environment" was nowhere on the political radar, Mazzocchi learned about nuclear fallout and began integrating environmental concerns into his critique of capitalism and his union work. An early believer in global warming, he believed that the struggle of capital against nature was the irreconcilable contradiction that would force systemic change.

Mazzocchi's story of non-stop activism parallels the rise and fall of industrial unionism. From his roots in a pro-FDR, immigrant family in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, through McCarthyism, the Sixties, and the surge of the environmental movement, Mazzocchi took on Corporate America, the labor establishment and a complacent Democratic Party.

This profound biography should be required reading for those who believe in taking risks and making the world a better place. While Mazzocchi's story is so full of peril and deception that it seems almost a work of fiction, Leopold proves that the most provocative and lasting stories in life are those of real people.

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Runaway Inequality

Runaway Inequality

By Les Leopold

Runaway inequality is now America’s most critical economic fact of life. In 1970, the ratio of pay between the top 100 CEOs and the average worker was 45 to 1. Today it is a shocking 829 to one! During that time a new economic philosophy set in that cut taxes, deregulated finance, and trimmed social spending. Those policies set in motion a process that greatly expanded the power of financial interests to accelerate inequality. But how exactly does that happen?

Using easy-to-understand charts and graphs, Runaway Inequality explains the process by which corporation after corporation falls victim to systematic wealth extraction by banks, private equity firms, and hedge funds. It reveals how financial strip-mining puts enormous downward pressure on jobs, wages, benefits, and working conditions, while boosting the incomes of financial elites.

But Runaway Inequality does more than make sense of our economic plight. It also shows why virtually all the key issues that we face—from climate change to the exploding prison population—are intimately connected to rising economic inequality.

Most importantly, Runaway Inequality calls upon us to build a common movement to tackle the sources of increasing income and wealth inequality. As the author makes clear, the problem will not cure itself. It will take enormous energy and dedication to bring economic justice and fairness back to American society.

The book is divided into four parts:

  • Part I: What is the fundamental cause of runaway economic inequality? What has made our economy less fair and left most of us less secure?
  • Part II: How does the United States really compare with other major developed countries?  How do we stack up on quality of life, health, and well-being?
  • Part III:  What does economic inequality have to do with so many of the critical issues we face, including taxes, debt, education, criminal justice, racism, climate change, foreign trade, and war?
  • Part IV: What concrete steps can we take to begin building a fair and just society?   

From the book: “There is nothing in the economic universe that will automatically rescue us from runaway inequality. There is no pendulum, no invisible political force that ‘naturally’ will swing back towards economic fairness. Either we wage a large-scale battle for economic, social, and environmental justice, or we will witness the continued deterioration of the world we inhabit. The arc of capitalism does not bend towards justice. We must bend it.”

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AUTHOR VIDEOS

Les Leopold, author of The Looting of America, Explains the Financial Collapse (Longer Version)

Les Leopold, author of The Looting of America, Explains the Financial Collapse and Bailout

Tony Mazzocchi, A Video Tribute

Les Leopold speaks in Portland--with video

Thom Hartmann: Conversations with Great Minds with Les Leopold - The Looting of America, Pt 1

Thom Hartmann: Conversations with Great Minds with Les Leopold - The Looting of America, Pt 1

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