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Book Review: Mobs, Messiahs, and Markets: Surviving the Public Spectacle in Finance and Politics by William Bonner and Lila Rajiva

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Bill Bonner and Lila Rajiva team up, in Mobs, Messiahs, and Markets: Surviving the Public Spectacle in Finance and Politics, to peel the layers of glittering wool from our eyes so that we may see the world of politics and financial markets for what they are. They show us the poor players upon the stage, to paraphrase Macbeth for a moment, as they strut and fret their hour upon the stage, telling tales full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. And what a show it is! Cocks, with their long bright tail feathers, strutting down the runway. Big-horned deer duking it out on stage. That's what it all comes down to, the authors observe. In the end,

it's all sex and lies. Everything: Romance. Cars. Jobs. The debt bubble. The real estate bubble. The trade deficit bubble. The American Empire. They are useful only as evidence of conspicuous consumption; they wink to the opposite sex that the animal is fit for procreation and game for a little hanky-panky. If he can carry around all that extra baggage and still survive, he must be tough.

Mobs, Messiahs, and Markets is a tragi-comedy, full of sharp observations, delivered with equally sharp wit. This book's dark and disturbing revelations could leave one depressed and disillusioned, were it not so damn funny. But Mobs, Messiahs, and Markets isn't merely about sitting back in our seats to laugh at the poor saps on stage. They aren't blaming the actors either. Well, not entirely. Most of them are otherwise intelligent, responsible, rational individuals who have simply been caught up in the public spectacle and the irrationality of mass mentality. So along with the sharp observations and disturbing revelations are some pointers for the thinking individual – individual is key — to use the knowledge gleaned from the show to avoid getting caught up in the public spectacle and maybe even make some money to secure his or her future.

BonnerBill Bonner is the founder and president of Agora Inc., a consumer newsletter and book publishing company and is the creator of The Daily Reckoning, a contrarian financial newsletter delivered via e-mail. Bonner has also written, with Addison Wiggin, Empire of Debt: The Rise of An Epic Financial Crisis and Financial Reckoning Day: Surviving the Soft Depression of the 21st Century.

Rajiva_2Lila Rajiva is a contributing writer and editor at Agora, and her work can also be found at Lew Rockwell, Counterpunch, Money Week, Dissident Voice, Himal South Asian, and Rational Review, among others. She is the author of The Language of Empire: Abu Ghraib and the American Media, and blogs at the Mind-Body Politic.

The first chapter, "Do-Gooders Gone Bad," is perhaps the lightest, but its opening paragraph hints at the central problem with which the book is concerned, whether in politics or in finance, and its dark humour sets the tone for the rest of the book.

It is a shame that the world improvers don't set off some signal before they go bad, like a fire alarm that is running out of juice. Maybe some adjustment could be made. Instead, the most successful of them — such as Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler — actually gain market share as they get worse. Their delusions are self-reinforcing, like the delusions of a stock market bubble; the higher the prices go, the more people come to believe they make sense.

Bonner and Rajiva don't put much stock in do-gooders and world improvers, nor in the over-bloated and fickle financial markets. But how can you talk about figures like Mussolini and Hitler, some people may rightly ask, and crack jokes? The answer, I suspect, is that humour is a useful distancing tool. They are not making light of the suffering caused by these figures, but they think about things most people prefer not to. In the context of the inevitable and very devastating U.S. housing bust on the horizon they remark that they make it their business "to think about precisely what most people can't bear thinking about." And to think about these things to understand why they happen again and again and again, and why the masses inevitably get caught up in the momentum no matter how nasty things get, one must "get close enough to see how things work — like a prairie dog peering into a hay bailer — but not so close that you get caught up in it yourself."

About Abram Bergen

  • Heloise

    I happened on this book in the library last month, when I had money in the markets. It was a bit scary to read. I read other books on the market at the same time and all said one thing: You can’t beat the market, it will beat you first. That said, buy stocks like you buy groceries, a little at a time from stores you trust.

    Heloise