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Empire of Debt: The Rise of an Epic Financial Crisis

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In Empire of Debt, maverick financial writers Bill Bonner and Addison Wiggin provide you with the first in-depth look at how the American character has shifted to accommodate its new imperial role; how we have abandoned the private virtues of personal liberty, economic freedom, and fiscal restraint; and how the government has gained control of public life and the economy.


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In Empire of Debt, maverick financial writers Bill Bonner and Addison Wiggin provide you with the first in-depth look at how the American character has shifted to accommodate its new imperial role; how we have abandoned the private virtues of personal liberty, economic freedom, and fiscal restraint; and how the government has gained control of public life and the economy.

30 review for Empire of Debt: The Rise of an Epic Financial Crisis

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jon

    Every day brings newspaper headlines about recession and real estate foreclosures, where only a few years ago those same newspapers and magazines were ecstatic over the endless profits to come in the new era of easy real estate money and home equity. Empire of Debt was written during the sub-prime real estate party as a warning for what was to come. And they were right. But real estate foreclosures and credit crunches are only the beginning, and the problem is much older than the recent bubble. T Every day brings newspaper headlines about recession and real estate foreclosures, where only a few years ago those same newspapers and magazines were ecstatic over the endless profits to come in the new era of easy real estate money and home equity. Empire of Debt was written during the sub-prime real estate party as a warning for what was to come. And they were right. But real estate foreclosures and credit crunches are only the beginning, and the problem is much older than the recent bubble. The story goes all the way back to World War 1, where President Wilson introduced a paradigm shift into American foreign policy that lasts to this day.

  2. 4 out of 5

    James

    This was a surprising book. It has a great deal of humor and covers america's foolish foreign policy of the last 100 years as well as the financial mistakes and greed. Here are a few memorable quotes: After the West won its Cold war with the Soviet Union, the neocons desperately longed for a new enemy. While they were searching, one found them. Abe Lincoln is credited with having abolished slavery - at a cost of 618,000 American lives, 2 percent of the entire population. Everywhere else in the world This was a surprising book. It has a great deal of humor and covers america's foolish foreign policy of the last 100 years as well as the financial mistakes and greed. Here are a few memorable quotes: After the West won its Cold war with the Soviet Union, the neocons desperately longed for a new enemy. While they were searching, one found them. Abe Lincoln is credited with having abolished slavery - at a cost of 618,000 American lives, 2 percent of the entire population. Everywhere else in the world, slavery was abolished - at about the same time - with hardly a single corpse. No fraud is so lovable as the illusion of getting something for nothing. But something for nothing was just what the new conservatives now promised voters - just like the democrats. The difference was that the democrats pledged to steal the money from the rich . The republicans promised to create it in a free economy, like Jesus multiplying the loaves and fishes at Beth saida. Voodoo economics, was how bush sr. described it.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Dennis Littrell

    Entertaining and fun, especially for cynical curmudgeons I got a kick out of reading this book. Bonner and Wiggin lampoon with audacious metaphor our sacred cow politicians (Lincoln, Wilson, Bush, etc.) and economists (Greenspan, Bernanke, et al.) with the kind of consummate cynicism that would have delighted the likes of Mark Twain, Ambrose Bierce and H. L. Mencken. They believe in entertaining the reader. In a book on economics and politics, this is to be appreciated. However, let's be candid: t Entertaining and fun, especially for cynical curmudgeons I got a kick out of reading this book. Bonner and Wiggin lampoon with audacious metaphor our sacred cow politicians (Lincoln, Wilson, Bush, etc.) and economists (Greenspan, Bernanke, et al.) with the kind of consummate cynicism that would have delighted the likes of Mark Twain, Ambrose Bierce and H. L. Mencken. They believe in entertaining the reader. In a book on economics and politics, this is to be appreciated. However, let's be candid: these guys are rowing merrily down the stream with only one oar in the water. First of all, it doesn't matter that Japan and China are loaning us trillions of dollars. This debt can never be called in. Everybody's knows that to call in such a debt would bankrupt not only the US but throw the world into a horrendous financial crisis. The truth (strange as it might seem) is that it is the debtor who holds the lender in his hands. The Biblical adage that "The borrower shall be a slave to the lender" (which they quote at least twice) just isn't true when the lender has no power to call in the debt. The best way to understand the debt that America owes to China and Japan and much of the rest of the world is to see it as an investment situation. The rest of the world is investing in America! Treasury bonds pay interest, and only interest is what the lenders are going to get. They can never get their principle returned. Instead of trading tea and China plates for opium, what we have today is China trading manufactured goods on the installment plan. It's a trading cycle: China and Japan, et al., manufacture the goodies we are taught, through relentless and massive advertising, to desire. Without this desire the great wheels of global commerce would shrink faster than a cheap shirt in hot water (and China and Japan would be out of business). Next the US government prints massive amounts of dollars which are funneled into the American consumer's hands (mostly for "servicing" one another). Then the Chinese and Japanese manufacture goods for the dollars. Then the dollars which the Chinese and Japanese people are taught to save are sent back to the US. It's like the opium trade. Secondly, as for gold always holding its value while paper money tends to return to the value of the paper itself (or less), it should be noted that lead or granite rock also retain their value, more or less. Granite rock becomes more valuable when people need or desire more granite rock, or it becomes more expensive to mine it. Gold has held its value through the millennia because it is relatively rare and hard to extract from the ground. Should a massive meteorite the side of Texas made of pure gold float down to earth, then the value of gold would plummet like the stock price of a dot com biz in the year 2000. What the paper dollar represents is the stored value of the US. Yes, inflation will come, and so it is wise to diversify your investments. Thirdly, the "empire" that the authors believe came into being in 1917 with our (unnecessary, they contend) entry into World War I is (as they point out) an absurd empire since it is not able to command tribute from the conquered. Instead it seems that we are giving money to the conquered, as in Iraq today. Not to worry. For a host of reasons globalization (which really started in 15th century with Columbus) is very, very good for America and Europe, although not entirely wonderful for the developing countries. We rip them off, taking their natural resources on the cheap and using their labor for pennies on the dollar, but they get...what do they get? Well, they get exploited. But at least they don't get slaughtered or enslaved as in Roman times. So it is crocodile tears that Bonner and Wiggin are shedding for the good old red, white and blue (although they appear not to know it). Actually I think they do know it because a lot of what they write is with tongue firmly in cheek, and again with an eye to entertaining and shocking the reader, kind of like undergraduates shocking the bourgeoisie. However, there is often at least a kernel of truth in what they say, and they do say it so very well. For example: "Abraham Lincoln is credited with having abolished slavery--at a cost of 618,000 American lives...Everywhere else in the world, slavery was abolished--at about the same time--with hardly a single corpse. The Great Emancipator might better be cursed than praised." (pp. 196-197) "If frugality is a disorder, it is too rare to worry about. The odds of coming down with it are as remote as integrity in public office." (p. 243) "A great empire is to the world of geopolitics what a great bubble is to the world of economics. It is attractive at the outset, but a catastrophe eventually." (p. 60) "A great ruler conquers a city much for the same reason a middle-aged lawyer buys an expensive sports car, a peacock spreads his tail feathers, or a moral philosopher writes a popular book. It indicates to females that he has good genes." (p. 77) "War appeals to the limbic system like a new pair of shoes. The yahoos grow taller when war is announced. When people walk they take on a proud martial air...Politicians feel the need to...slosh perfume on the stench of death. But the words mean nothing. When the sentiments in the limbic system are ready for it, the common man is as eager for war as he is for an extension of his line of credit." (pp. 124-125) "If one of the defining features of empire is an open-ended source of funding, another is the shift of power away from the legislature in favor of the executive." (p. 135) --Dennis Littrell, author of “The World Is Not as We Think It Is”

  4. 5 out of 5

    Ming

    shows the american illusion of prosperity quite well... but this book scares the hell out of me, har har EDIT: I read this very early in 2007 when nobody believed this stuff. Fast foward to Jan 2009... well these boys sure showed up everyone who doubted them!

  5. 5 out of 5

    Dennis

    Talks about why US might be near it's end as an empire. All empires come to an end

  6. 5 out of 5

    Sam Dye

    Lots of extras in this well written and funny at the same time sobering work. One extra is the exposition of vanity as a driver of wars and stupid financial policy. McNamara, Greenspan, Reagan and the neoconservatives, Lincoln vs Johnson, all are looked at with fresh and important information. The fact that the statistics reporting in the current form is misleading perhaps could have been hammered on more because so much poor decision making is documented and if the numbers are mush where are we Lots of extras in this well written and funny at the same time sobering work. One extra is the exposition of vanity as a driver of wars and stupid financial policy. McNamara, Greenspan, Reagan and the neoconservatives, Lincoln vs Johnson, all are looked at with fresh and important information. The fact that the statistics reporting in the current form is misleading perhaps could have been hammered on more because so much poor decision making is documented and if the numbers are mush where are we? Paul Volker is reported as someone who should be listened to but has been pushed aside in the current debate and the "Volker Rule" "may not see the light of day". To quote page 242 "The United States economy is growing, says Paul Volker, on the savings of poor people. Or as Marshall Auerback puts it, we have become a 'Blanche Dubois' (I didn't know who she was but will soon read A Streetcar Named Desire sounds like a fascinating character) economy--we have delusions of grandeur, and yet we are completely dependent on the kindness of strangers just to keep going. Poor people make things, and then finance the consumption of them by rich people. (Poor = Chinese; Rich = Us) Next paragraph: "Americans deceive themselves with the fanciful notion that people who live in hovels, eat disgusting animals, and earn less than 1/20 as much per hour will be willing to finance our new houses and new wars forever. Why? Our economy is so "dynamic"...so "flexible".....so "open"---- the poor peasants can't resist! They nailed the 2008 recession except the spread to Europe via the MBS's so we had better listen to them!

  7. 5 out of 5

    Mark Geise

    I certainly agree with the authors on just about every topic they cover. The authors make quality arguments in support of the thesis that the United States is an empire built on debt and money creation and that it will go the way of all past empires. The United States has gone away from what made it a great country: minding its own business, focusing on its own affairs, and being smart financially. Over the past 100 years, America has evolved from the biggest creditor in the world to the biggest I certainly agree with the authors on just about every topic they cover. The authors make quality arguments in support of the thesis that the United States is an empire built on debt and money creation and that it will go the way of all past empires. The United States has gone away from what made it a great country: minding its own business, focusing on its own affairs, and being smart financially. Over the past 100 years, America has evolved from the biggest creditor in the world to the biggest debtor. This book was written in the heights of the housing bubble when the national debt was significantly lower, but the numbers the authors present are alarming nonetheless. The authors continually reference the hysteria caused by bubbles like the one the American economy was in at that time, and they hit the nail on the head. What kept this from being more highly rated by me was the general disorganization of this book. Certain things are repeated multiple times and the various sections don't really follow any logical progression. A lot of it was written in a stream of consciousness style, which doesn't lend itself well to quality organization. Sometimes it seemed that different essays were just mashed together into chapters with subheadings, which could be tedious to read at times. I enjoyed reading this book, but it would have been a whole lot better had they worked harder to segment the sections better. It's already about ten years old now, so it's a bit dated. If you're looking for up-to-date numbers and analysis, this probably isn't the book for you. What they talk about is just as relevant as ever, though.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Doug

    If you enjoy 'chatty' non-fiction, and have a hankering to learn more economics, this is for you. Colloquial without being homespun, Bonner and Wiggin lay out a clear and disarming case as to why the American Empire itself is not "too big to fail," given its horrendous monetary policies, especially in the last 25 years. Of course we are witnessing today the effects of those policies, in a bad way. The work is a bit repetitive in its listing of certain stats; the authors mention too often that Chi If you enjoy 'chatty' non-fiction, and have a hankering to learn more economics, this is for you. Colloquial without being homespun, Bonner and Wiggin lay out a clear and disarming case as to why the American Empire itself is not "too big to fail," given its horrendous monetary policies, especially in the last 25 years. Of course we are witnessing today the effects of those policies, in a bad way. The work is a bit repetitive in its listing of certain stats; the authors mention too often that China saves more than America does, and some of the typos are annoying -- "16 Pennsylvania Ave." for instance. I could also do without similes such as "like a pretty woman who rotates her own tires." Is that so incongruous? Overall, though, this would be a good primer for anyone who thinks economics is horribly arcane, dry, or merely "the dismal science." It's especially pertinent for Americans who are homeowners and think that living on credit is a good idea. The work is also fun for its takedown of columnist Thomas Friedman as a pseudo-intellectual who has risen on volumes of hot air.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jon

    The market makes the opinion and not the other way around. That along with a lot of other things came out clear in this book. Overall, a very good book because it is full of information. It is a hard read, yet an easy read. You're not blindsided with economic babel, but yet the way things are described, there is almost too much detail. The writing style is more meant for a blog since there is a lot of sarcasm among the anecdotes. Unfortunately this makes it hard to pull out the real stingers of The market makes the opinion and not the other way around. That along with a lot of other things came out clear in this book. Overall, a very good book because it is full of information. It is a hard read, yet an easy read. You're not blindsided with economic babel, but yet the way things are described, there is almost too much detail. The writing style is more meant for a blog since there is a lot of sarcasm among the anecdotes. Unfortunately this makes it hard to pull out the real stingers of information even though it is chalk full of them. You almost need a highlighter or a notepad to pullout some of these. But, don't understand that to mean this is a text book. Just many blog posts on steroids. The book was written in 2005 during the real estate boom. The authors predict the collapse, and I only wish I had read it when the book came out. It took 6 months in my queue at the library to finally read this at the end of 2008, so you know the information is accurate yet still timely. I recommend it, but don't assume you can skim through it.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Aquaro

    The content was very good. The points that are made in this book are very interesting, and hard to ignore or refute. It is a very nice summary of the events leading up to America declaring itself an Empire, and the after affects of that proclamation. I particularly enjoyed the parts about 'Guns and Butter' describing American's enthusiasm for foreign wars where we are the saviors of the world and government programs providing what are the 'rights of all Americans'. It is particularly interesting The content was very good. The points that are made in this book are very interesting, and hard to ignore or refute. It is a very nice summary of the events leading up to America declaring itself an Empire, and the after affects of that proclamation. I particularly enjoyed the parts about 'Guns and Butter' describing American's enthusiasm for foreign wars where we are the saviors of the world and government programs providing what are the 'rights of all Americans'. It is particularly interesting in light of the economic turmoil and presidential election going on right now. My criticism of this book is that it was not particularly well written. The authors repeat themselves often. It think that the book could have been half as long and just as thorough.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jim

    The style is pretty bombastic, but the message is clear and compelling. Can't say I agree with everything. For example, the authors obsess on how the US decoupled the dollar from gold. Get over it. This is a level playing field -- no major currency is linked to gold anymore, and no major economic power is ever going to return to the gold standard. As a matter of fact, having a precious metal sit idle as an abstract basis for currency valuation is a waste of precious resources. The book is thought The style is pretty bombastic, but the message is clear and compelling. Can't say I agree with everything. For example, the authors obsess on how the US decoupled the dollar from gold. Get over it. This is a level playing field -- no major currency is linked to gold anymore, and no major economic power is ever going to return to the gold standard. As a matter of fact, having a precious metal sit idle as an abstract basis for currency valuation is a waste of precious resources. The book is thought provoking and disturbing on what lies ahead if the U.S. doesn't rein in its spending and imperial ambitions.

  12. 4 out of 5

    The American Conservative

    'Most Americans are aware that something has gone very wrong, but they are at a loss to sort of out the causes, especially the ones that are most invisible. This is where the smashing book by William Bonner and Addison Wiggin, titled Empire of Debt, performs an extraordinary service. In addition to being accomplished financial analysts, Bonner and Wiggin are talented historical writers. And they put this talent to work in the cause of examining the political and economic effects of empire.' Read 'Most Americans are aware that something has gone very wrong, but they are at a loss to sort of out the causes, especially the ones that are most invisible. This is where the smashing book by William Bonner and Addison Wiggin, titled Empire of Debt, performs an extraordinary service. In addition to being accomplished financial analysts, Bonner and Wiggin are talented historical writers. And they put this talent to work in the cause of examining the political and economic effects of empire.' Read the full review, "An Empire Built of Paper," on our website: http://www.theamericanconservative.co...

  13. 4 out of 5

    Christopher

    Great history of empires and their downfalls. Really shows how the United States is an entirely different kind of empire, one who seems to have front-loaded all of it's success at the expense of future generations. Nothing you can't learn about economics from another book, but a great source of history for mistakes already made.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Void lon iXaarii

    One of the best books I've enjoyed in the last years. It's delightful mix of current facts, rich world history and all taken with a heavy dose of brilliant black humor and a mastery of language. I would say it's history mixed with economics told with the storytelling humor of a Pratchett/Douglas Adams mix. Very educational, very entertaining.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Stanley Arthur

    I read this book in 2006 just before the economic melt-down. It was instrumental in my planning to avoid becoming a victim of the "Great Recession." I was amazed when I recently re-read this book, so see how prophetical he was back in 2005 and 2006. Now that we know how the movie actually ends, his assessment is more both more believable and credible.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Phil

    All about the multi-faceted debt crisis the US is going through. This is a great doom and gloom book about our impending economic destruction. Next time we decide to have an empire, let's take money from the countries we conquer and *not* promise to pay it back.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Wellington

    This book has balls. Who else have you heard look to Abraham Lincoln, not as one of the great US Presidents, but as a man that is responsible for the lives lost in the Civil War. None of the other major Western powers needed a war to end slavery - just the USA.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Greg

    This is a little sketchy...it's published by a press owned by one of the authors and it's got way too much "personality" to be taken as a serious economic text. I was looking for an introduction to macroeconomics, and this wasn't it.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jess Acosta

    Scary how accurate this book is when held up to today's current events! Keep in mind this was published almost exactly 2 years ago and what determined negligence it must have taken to allow us to get to where we are today.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Sam

    Empire of Debt was written in 2005 (published in 2006), so it's eerie how right Bonner & Wiggin's predictions have turned out. They predicted a stock market crash, real estate price crash, serious recession/depression, & dollar crash. Three down, one to go? Empire of Debt was written in 2005 (published in 2006), so it's eerie how right Bonner & Wiggin's predictions have turned out. They predicted a stock market crash, real estate price crash, serious recession/depression, & dollar crash. Three down, one to go?

  21. 4 out of 5

    Me2

    Loved this book, it just shows that you can never underestimate the stupidity of people. And the the people in the USA are about as dumb as they get.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Shane

    Interesting - predictive, looks like much of it that has not been proven yet will have the opportunity to be proven soon

  23. 4 out of 5

    Ashley

    Started.. need to finish

  24. 5 out of 5

    Drake Brown

    So far a very illuminating analysis of the structural flaws of American Capitalism right now. Written 4 years ago or so it certainly was prophetic of our current economic meltdown

  25. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    I absolutely LOVE this guy's sarcasm and the mix of economics, politics, and history.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Ryan Handermann

    After talking a lot, the author concludes that you should buy gold now. But why not buy a cow?

  27. 5 out of 5

    Malvin

    An insight into how empires self destruct and how the once mighty US veered into a state which embraces debt.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Frederick Dotolo

    Links the danger of military and strategic expansion- both historic and current- to economic collapse under the resulting debt.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Chandler

    Well written piece of pure genius. Predicted the current housing bust and depression years in advance. I wish these guys were running the Federal Reserve.

  30. 4 out of 5

    George

    Read this right when it came out in 2005 and it helped me prepare myself for the coming crash

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