Frank (2015), by Barney Frank


Frank is both tedious and important, not a happy combination for the reader who knows we were lucky the very bright Frank, now retired, worked the halls of Congress when the Recession of 2008 assailed us and who wants the sobering details first hand. Frank’s memoir is thematically loose–too many threads–and, often, reflective in what seems less than a deep way. Specifically, military affairs, international policy–I wouldn’t read this book for any real news here.

Moving and important is Frank’s odyssey as a gay man in public life over the past several decades–he dramatizes the challenge unforgettably and sends us considerable wisdom about it as LGBTQ rights become more secure in America over his years in government. And throughout Frank we learn much wisdom about politics and the voters, most notably urban and state politics, as Frank learned them, often the hard way, during his early career as a lawmaker in Boston and in Massachusetts. He sums up much of the wisdom with this piece of advice Boston city councillor Fred Langone gave the neophyte Frank:

“Hey kid,” he lectured me, “ain’t you heard the news? Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.”

But for essential news about the economy, the Financial Sector, and especially the crucial need for us to practice what has been called “mixed capitalism,” Frank, a crucial warrior in cleaning up the mess of the Great Recession of 2008, has given us an indispensable report, one Americans should consult, for Frank is one of the most authoritative texts on the Great Recession: it breaks the deepest news about What Happened and Who Was Involved and The Lessons. You would expect him to report without peer on the complicity of the political establishment, but you are happy to find that Frank understands nearly as well the mendacity in the Financial Sector and among its defenders and cheerleaders together with the mischief of the leading fools, including those of academia, in the debacle. Above all, he creates a post mortem which comprehensively accounts for the sad tale. The detective leaning against the mantle and explaining the crime in a drawing-room mystery.

In a telling passage, Frank says:

After the crash, the most conservative elements in American politics went to great lengths to absolve the private sector of significant responsibility for the crisis that devastated the economy. They did not blame the financial industry for its bundling of loans into securities that relieved lenders of any need to worry about repayment. Or for wildly overleveraged derivatives that were sold by entities–like AIG–that did not come remotely close to having the funds needed to meet their obligations. Or for complex, opaque securities given overly optimistic scores from the rating agencies. Or for heavy liabilities owed by banks that had concealed them on balance sheets. To the contrary, in conservatives’ version, the private financial  sector was more than merely innocent; it had been taken hostage by an oppressive government that forced it to lend money to the undeserving poor so that they could buy homes.

Frank raises and destroys these and others of the most prominent arguments in defense of the Financial Sector in the Great Recession, naming names and citing Orwellian Wall Street Journal editorials in a devastating and embarrassing expose’ of the desperate self-interest and, really, seemingly invincible self-deception of some economists and other people and groups with some or other stake in The Street. The saga of Dodd-Frank is an epic voters should understand, at least in main outline, and Frank delivers. Most importantly, he airs the dark secrets, naming names and detailing actions, in two remarkable and valuable appendices: “Appendix 1: Who Did What on Subprime Lending and Regulating Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac”; and “Appendix 2: Conservative Support for Subprime Loans to Minority and Very Low-Income People Before the Economic Crisis.”

Of course, in the Great Din of the conglomerate-owned mainstream media there has been no report similar to Frank’s appendices. Nor does Frank himself take the next step: detailing the lobbyists involved and the money “donated”  step-by-step to the principal pols involved in the Secret Lives of the Legislators named by Frank, something Out There not all that difficult to round up. Indeed, in my view Frank himself tries to downplay the influence of money politics in the lead-up to, and the explosion of, the Great Recession. He says that in cases in which the voters are explicitly and demonstrably opposed to heavily lobbied possible actions of Congress, the voters, not the relentless money-laden lobbyists, take precedent. You and I both know that the real question here is: At the time are the voters even remotely aware of many lobbied legislative moves which would compromise their interests? And certainly we know the answer.

Yet Frank is not conspiratorial–far from it. Frank fills in much of the essential politico-economic story and dramatizes that a Capitalism which is “mixed”–works under a set of enlightened regulations–is imperative for us in preserving the Republic.

For that we must thank him.