Saturday, June 14, 2014

The House Always Wins. Never Bet Against the House.

This book by Matt Taibbi is a modern-day crime novel, as cynically entertaining and funny as it is beyond the scope of Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammlett or James Ellroy. Writing a sleazy who-done-it, Taibbi is a journalist with the investigative instincts of hard-boiled private dick Philip Marlowe. But the crimes Taibbi describes in this book are not unsolved mysteries: we know exactly who-done-it. In fact, it’s easier to know who-done-it than it is to know how they did it, which turns out to be very complicated on one hand, but essentially it’s as easy to understand as any common street-corner con game, as vicious as any mob-run Las Vegas gambling casino or no-show construction-site scam in New Jersey. It’s Tony Soprano as the CEO of Goldman Sachs.

The narrative, which begins in St. Paul, Minnesota, ends up circling the globe with yellow crime scene tape, wrapped around the earth many times over. The crimes are hatched in the secret boardrooms of the world’s wealthiest and most powerful banks and in the offices of stockbrokers, speculators, commodity traders and insurance salesmen. The bodies are buried in the entitlement-vacation giveaways belonging to politicians (who are “made guys”), mob lawyers, bureaucrats and wise-guy lobbyists. Matt Taibbi takes the reader behind-the-scenes to the casino floor of the secret government, the real power in the United States, where “crime” itself is the best description of government money can buy.

Now, there are plenty of victims in Taibbi’s crime novel, but there’s one aspect of political racketeering and organized financial crime that is glaringly missing in the story: Law and Order -- like the TV show. In “Griftopia” there are no arrests, no prosecutions, no convictions and no jail time. You won’t find that in this story. In many respects, Taibbi’s book is an anatomy of the “perfect crime” in which criminal masterminds repeat the same crime over and over again, with slight variations. Occasionally there will be a monetary fine here, an economic sanction there, a slap on the wrist and a promise of reform; but it doesn’t matter, because the stiffest penalties are simply the cost of doing business in America.  

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