On an unrelated note, I just finished "Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World," a book by Michael Lewis ("The Big Short," "The Blindside.") In this short non-fiction book, Lewis travels from Iceland to Greece to Ireland to Germany and finally to California (where he rides bikes with Arnold Schwarzenegger), examining the causes and effects of the worldwide financial crisis. He talks to bankers, politicians, and finance ministers to try to understand how they got into such a mess (in the cases of Iceland, Greece, Ireland, and California) and how they avoided it (in the case of Germany, with some exceptions).
Lewis is a great storyteller, taking something that might be boring and dry and turning it into a compelling narrative. He approached each country as a journalist should--trying to understand it not through a preconceived framework but based on the facts he discovers. And because I discovered the facts along with him, as he told the story, I feel like I have a much better understanding of what happened. He looked at the culture of each country, too, to see how it related to its financial circumstances. From the New York Times review:
[Lewis]weaves... stories into a sharp-edged narrative that leaves readers with a visceral understanding of the fiscal recklessness that lies behind today’s headlines about Europe’s growing debt problems and the risk of contagion they now pose to the world.It's a fascinating book that left me viewing the world through a more conservative lens. Two common threads across the countries? First, greed. It's omnipresent. Second, people taking more than they've earned simply because they can. Adults mortgaging their children's future in order to maintain a higher standard of living. It's not that I don't blame the elite bankers, who gambled with pensions and 401k's and manipulated the public; it's not that I don't blame government regulators who turned a blind eye so long as their coffers were filled; it's that at the end of the day, each of us is responsible for our own actions, for becoming as financially educated as possible. And I felt for Slovakia as it was being asked to bail out Greece.