Michael Lewis was on The Daily Show this week. He has a book out called Boomerang about the global financial crisis. Essentially it is a compilation of feature articles he wrote for Vanity Fair about Iceland, Greece, Ireland, Germany, and California. He also wrote The Blind Side which was made into a movie with Sandra Bullock and Moneyball, another non-fiction book turned into a movie that has just come out and stars Brad Pitt.
For each article he goes to the country and reports on what he finds out. It is a pretty funny picture of each country (I’ve read the Iceland and Greece articles so far) plus gives you a lot of details about their economic troubles. Nothing complicated or technical, but still good information, if a little superficial (which he admits). The articles are almost more of a travelogue than news article. He says about two Greek tax collectors that although they are both whistle blowers fearing for their jobs, they can’t stand each other. He writes “This, I’d be told many times by other Greeks, was very Greek.” In Greece the government workers were making 3 times the average private sector wage. However, he also points out that in the private sector most people list themselves as self-employed and report almost no income in order to avoid taxes. If the tax agency investigated, you could just bribe them to leave you alone or fight the charges in court which would take forever. Knowing the court battle would take forever, the tax agency generally would just give up.
He started the series with Iceland where he talks about these really aggressive Icelandic fishermen giving up fishing to become investment bankers and ruining the country by taking the same kinds of risks as investment bankers that they took as North Atlantic fishermen. He points out that Iceland is just this really, really sparsely populated country and everyone knows everyone else. He asks a guy if he knows Bjork. He says of course he does. Everyone knows everyone in Iceland. And the guy adds that not only is Bjork a bad singer, but so is her mother.
He has also covered Germany who loaned out most of the money and are now stuck with paying most of the bills. Ireland is another place where the speculative bubble burst in a big way. And just this month he has written about California where the people insist the government stay in operation but also keep refusing to allow the government to collect taxes.