Bookcase Unravelling and Revealing

The Great Unravelling
By: Paul Krugman
Publisher: Penguin
Price: $35.00

One of the most neck-prickling experiences of my career took place in New York 20-something years ago. The guest speaker at dinner of international publishers was relatively unknown, at least to me because he had only recently succeeded to the position, vice president of the United States. It was the most appallingly banal and superficial economic-cum-political speech I had ever, or have ever since, heard. And I have heard some doozies. I felt embarrassed for the man and his guests. His name was George H W Bush. His son, George W, is, intellectually speaking, apparently not even chip off the old block.
I mention this simply to suggest that if you have no interest in understanding the scale and scope of the mendacity that currently pervades US politics and economic management, do not read this book. If, on the other hand, you enjoy the writings and insights of one of America’s most astute economic columnists I can’t recommend The Great Unravelling too highly.
The book is collection of Krugman’s New York Times Op-Ed columns and so it is not only revealing and disturbing, but also delightfully written. I confess to being long-time Krugman reader so, like those financial writers who fess-up to owning shares in the companies they write about, I declare my literary and economic interest.
This is the paperback version of Krugman’s columns published between January 2000 to January 2003. Bit by weekly bit he reveals the terrible story of the Bush administration’s “outrageous dishonesty” long before the rest of the punditocracy began pointing out the same thing. With the eye of well-trained economist he could see the unravelling of well-managed economy and thoughtful, if morally deficient, political administration.
This is not, as the author says in his own words, “a happy book”. It is mainly about economic disappointment, bad leadership and the “lies of the powerful”. But, he also says, “don’t despair: nothing has gone wrong in America that can’t be repaired”. The first step in the repair job is understanding where and how the system got broken and Krugman provides some fascinating pointers.

The Smartest Guys in
the Room – the amazing rise and scandalous fall of Enron
By: Bethany McLean & Peter Elkind
Publisher: Penguin
Price: $59.99

Pipe Dreams – greed, ego
and the death of Enron
By: Robert Bryce
Publisher: PublicAffairs
Price: $34.95

Two more books on Enron. Oh no! you say. Well yes and, given what is revealed in the book reviewed above about the US Presidential Bushs, these two are worth look through.
The problem with books about Enron is that they invariably focus exclusively on the extraordinary self-rewarding activities of the key players. I understand that companies are, indeed, just that. collection of individuals. But the Enron stories I’ve read make it little difficult to stand back and appreciate the dynamics of the governance and management processes that also created and ultimately destroyed the business.
McLean and Elkind argue that Enron was brought down by something more complex and more tragic than “simple thievery”. They describe it as story of human weakness, hubris, greed and rampant self-delusion; ambition run amok; business model that didn’t work and “smart people who believed their next gamble would cover their last disaster – and who couldn’t admit they were wrong”.
Bryce is tad more salacious in approach but equally well researched and very readable. His revelations and explanation of father and son Bush’s relationships with Enron and, in particular with its chairman Kenneth Lay, explains much about prevailing US energy policies and politics, particularly since George W ascended to the throne.

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