Bull by the Horns

Most history is about what happened and why. An attractive feature of this book about the financial crisis of 2008, written by the chair of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) at the time, is that it covers many official responses to the crisis that were considered but not carried out. In explaining why she preferred what happened to what did not happen, or vice versa, Bair has produced a useful, corrective addition to the already extensive literature on the crisis. Unsurprisingly, as the crisis unfolded, Bair wanted to protect the FDIC’s funds, which back its guarantees of bank deposits, and she thought that some of the government support to large financial institutions was unwarranted. Her discussion of the practicalities of saving troubled banks is highly pertinent to the debate currently taking place over a possible banking union in Europe.

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