By Dermot Smyth
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This article is over 11 years, 9 months old
John Lanchester, Penguin, £20
Issue 346

Lanchester’s exposé of the shenanigans inside the financial world is witty, scathing and sarcastic. It is thoroughly researched and contains clear explanations of all the significant events of 2007 and 2008. It includes loads of detail on the bank-quake of 2008 when Lehman Brothers went over the precipice, and how the banks’ (relative) stability was restored only by the massive shifting of private debt to public debt.

Whoops doesn’t assume any experience of economics in the reader, and manages to do this without being patronising. But it tells only part of the story. Lanchester’s dismissal of the “fake golden age” of neoliberalism is forthright. But Marx is also dismissed, in the same breath as the former “Communist” states of Eastern Europe.

Lanchester acknowledges that it wasn’t just a minority of individuals who caused the crisis but the whole banking culture. But he then goes on to blame “everyone” for running up debt: “We were greedy and stupid… Bankers are to blame, but we’re to blame too. That’s just as well because we’re the ones who are going to have to pay.”

Even the book’s main title implies the whole mess is a mistake which, as well as being misleading, misrepresents its content. But Whoops should be read for its explanations of finance, not its politics. The best bits of Whoops! provide excellent ammunition for the battles ahead.

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