Can debt desperation make us smarter?

October 13th, 2011

The Star
By Ellen Roseman
Oct. 11, 2011

I’m not a baseball fan. I can’t get through a game without reading a book. But I loved Moneyball, a 133-minute film about how the Oakland Athletics’ general manager used computer data to put together a winning baseball team.

It’s based on a 2003 book by U.S. journalist Michael Lewis, who writes about finding undervalued baseball players as if he were writing about finding undervalued stocks.

He’s a talented financial writer who knows how to tell complex stories using a few pointed anecdotes

In a 2010 book, The Big Short, he found a few people who made fortunes betting against the U.S. subprime mortgage market before it collapsed in the summer of 2008.

And in a new book, Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World, he shows how the huge debt loads built up by a few European nations threaten to throw the world back into recession.

He does a quick tour of Iceland, Ireland, Greece and Germany before circling back to the United States. His journey ends in Vallejo, Calif., a city of 112,000 people that declared bankruptcy in 2008.

As Lewis starts his whirlwind jaunt, he has one question in mind.

How did so many individuals, banks and governments succumb to the lure of easy credit and take on more debt than they could afford?

“When people pile up debts they will find it difficult and perhaps even impossible to repay, they are saying several things at once,” he concludes.

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