If, in the last few years, you have read the occasional Huffington Post or New York Times article concerning the great bungling of the 2008 Bailout, this book won’t offer much new in terms of analysis or objective information. It does go into greater depth than most general-consumption news stories, unfortunately getting bogged down in wonkiness at times as a result.
What’s relatively fresh is the insider perspective on the petty culture of Washington’s insider politics and some of the personalities behind the bailout maneuverings, specifically Tim Geithner, Herb Allison and Neel Kashkari. Barofsky is not kind to these men, depicting them as deceitful, arrogant and/or inept Wall Street lackeys.
While I tend to trust the overall portrayal, at the end I’m left wondering at its necessity and/or appropriateness. There’s definitely cause to question Barofsky’s motives, as the account he gives of his role in overseeing the infamous TARP fund is suspiciously magnanimous. He describes scathing scenes that show his nemeses as little more than spoiled schoolboys, then later strains credibility by claiming he absolutely respects them as professionals.
It’s difficult for me to believe both assertions, and if I have to doubt one it’s going to be the latter, which leads me to question Barofsky’s motive in writing. If it’s revenge, as he himself suggests in the afterword and acknowledgments, then he succeeds (albeit with less dignity than when he started). But if that’s the case then he is disingenuous to feign impartiality and the higher cause of greater transparency, which he does throughout the book.
In the end, the book was captivating. At it’s best it confirms the outrageousness of the entire bailout and specifically documents the ways in which both the Bush and Obama administrations were sickeningly beholden to financial interests, at precisely the moment when the little guy needed them most. It also depicts the occasionally Kafkaesque absurdity of trying to get anything done at all among such childish, unprofessional politicians. At its worst, it reads like a gossipy vendetta smearing everyone who offended the author in some minor way.
Present throughout the book is Barofsky’s self-serving attitude, which ultimately gets in the way of an otherwise important airing of dirty political laundry.