John Allison was the CEO of one of the only large banks that stayed profitable during the financial upheaval that came to a head in 2008. During his 20 year tenure at BB&T, during which he lead based on the principles of Ayn Rand, the bank grew exponentially in its success (from assets of $4.5 billion to $152 billion). During the crisis, the federal government in essence forced BB&T to take bailout money, even though they didn’t want it or need it, and they were literally the very first bank to pay back the money once it was legal to do so.
It’s fair to say that Allison had a front seat to the financial crisis, but from the perspective of a healthy bank. During all the crazed activity in Washington running up to TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Plan—the massive bailout of the financial industry), while the Federal Reserve was propping up banks, insurance and other finance companies and dictating the sale of others, Allison tried multiple times to consult with leadership at the Federal Reserve and the Treasury. But it was in vain–those making such monumental financial decisions weren’t interested in hearing from the healthy banks, just the dangerously overleveraged ones.
Drawing from his unique perspective and experience in the banking industry, Allison talks through his understanding of all the moral hazards involved with the FDIC, the government housing policies, the real estate market bubble, Fair-Value Accounting methodologies, derivatives and other investment vehicles, the politicized financial ratings agencies, the SEC, and regulation vs deregulation.
Allison presents a very clear and concise argument: he lays most of the blame for the financial crisis squarely on government intervention in the markets and its interference in personal liberty. His solution: true capitalism and free markets. Apart from a brief section where he channeled some of Ayn Rand’s ridiculous, anti-Christian philosophical ideas about the supposed virtues of selfishness, I found Allison’s diagnosis and proscribed cure for our economic woes very compelling. He articulates the basic economic and philosophical principles well, and those who want a better understanding of the financial shenanigans of the last decade would do well to read this book.