496 pages | Buy this book
Sebastian Mallaby makes a case for hedge funds with a glamorized account of their history, from pioneer A. W. Jones to “master of the universe” George Soros. It’s a captivating story of leveraging, loopholes, and extremely complicated financial engineering.
What’s the Big Deal?
Hedge funds are an integral part of the global financial order, but they operate with little regulation. Really, it’s anything goes. Mallaby has no problem with this. In fact, he embraces hedge funds as a vital capitalist innovation. To Wall Street, his story is a breath of fresh air in the face of widespread calls for regulatory reform. But his fascinating account of exorbitantly leveraged transactions will surely lift a few more eyebrows in Congress.
Buzz Rating: A Rumble
One-Breath Author Bio
Mallaby is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. He writes a column for The Washington Post, and for a while he was a reporter for The Economist.
The Book, In His Words
“The story of hedge funds is the story of the frontiers of finance: of innovation and increasing leverage, of spectacular triumphs and humiliating falls, and of the debates spawned by these dramas” (page 5).
Don’t Miss These Bits:
1. Talk about a political economy: by Mallaby’s account, 1997 was the year when hedge funds took on more power than states. As Britain ceded control of Hong Kong, it was a critical shift in the Asian political order. But at the same time, George Soros was taking hugely powerful stakes in South Asian markets. It’s arguable who had a more lasting influence in the region. To this day, many still blame Soros for the disruption of several emerging Asian economies (page 206).
2. Hedge funds are bigger than the market. The enormous sums of money that hedge funds have at their disposal—and the fact they can move it without scrutiny—allows them to create “short” positions that actually undermine the basic supply-demand principle. In other words, they can distort markets. Ultimately, this could undermine the public’s confidence (page 85).
Swipe This Critique
Mallaby’s book is informative and entertaining. Its accounts of multibillion-dollar transactions and extravagant lifestyles may even entice you to switch careers. That is, until we’re one day faced with the ugly free fall of an even more monumental financial blowup.
Prose: The book is educational, but it’s also fluid and colorful.
Construction: Mallaby proceeds chronologically and builds the story as it goes. In the end, you’ve got the big picture.
Bottom Line: The fact remains that regulation has to come now. Why wait for disaster to strike first?