Faith Griffin, Riley Griffin, Isabelle Hoff, Spencer Jurgielewicz, Abigail Kennedy, Alexandra Ross, Mairead Wilsch
Michael Lewis’s The Big Short focuses on the 2008 global market crash and highlights the factors that lead up to said crash. It looks into the lives of the people who were involved in it. This includes but is not limited to individuals on Wall Street, the officials in the Reagan, Clinton, and Bush’s Administrations, and others involved in business. The book showed the views of those in charge on Wall Street and showed the making of the big decisions which affected the rest of the population. The book showed their lack of accountability. It also mentioned how many people were expelled from their homes due to the businessmen’s careless behavior towards their clients. The Big Short emphasizes a moral hazard, as the banks knew it was risky to loan money to people with the knowledge that they would not get the money back, they felt protected by the US government and believed that their system was too big to fail. The numerous loans distributed can be related to the overwhelming amount of characters that were presented throughout the story. Ignorance is a big theme throughout the book, consistently portraying the customers as “less than” the companies and investors having the biggest egos. Although the Big Short did give us a look into the Housing Crisis, there were many parts that were left out, including the parts that affected everyone else.
The Big Short does not examine the people who were hit the hardest by the economic downturn which were groups such as lower income individuals such as, people of color, and women. Instead it mostly highlights the CEO’s and businessmen on Wall Street along with the overall financial crisis of the nation. The book failed to analyze the socio-economic repercussions of certain groups that were at a disadvantage from the start of the crisis. There was no personal connection with any characters in the book and readers were unable to empathize with anything that happened regarding the people of higher status and influence. The businessmen and CEOs were sometimes portrayed in a manner in which they seemed like they had a robotic demeanor with no personality besides greed and a drive for self-interest. The Big Short showed just how corrupt those in charge were, gaining wealth from others’ downfalls. “The CEOs of every major Wall Street…All of them, without exception, either ran their public corporations into bankruptcy or were saved from bankruptcy by the United States government. They all got rich, too.” (Lewis 256). Unlike the general population, the businessmen received immense help from the government, even benefiting from this crisis of their making. American investors seemed to care little about the rules as they wanted to secure as many wins as possible, no matter the risk it presented to themselves and the global market. They even mock some European bankers by calling them “Stupid Germans. They take rating agencies seriously. They believe in the rules” (93). By mocking the foreign investors, they show just how little empathy they have for consequences. All their focus goes to their own gains, they simply do not care about rules or honesty.
The Turner House by Angela Flournoy sheds light on those who were directly affected by those in The Big Short. It shows the impact the housing crisis had on families, not only talking about the actions of the big companies and CEOs who caused the crisis. By showing the more individual reactions, and struggles of the Turner family, The Turner House shows many things that The Big Short wanted to hide, giving a new perspective many readers should know about when learning about this topic. The portrayal of addiction in both novels are vastly different; the CEO’s use of drugs and prostitutes is for pleasure/enjoyment, while people in The Turner House used sex, drinking, and gambling as a means of coping with their financial situations. “Lelah hooked Cha-Cha under the armpits and helped him sit upright on the bed. He reeked of beer. Sweat ringed his undershirt collar. She had never seen him like this before, ” (Flournoy 259). This example from The Turner House expresses the use of addiction as a way of coping with their struggles and as a way to avoid the financial strain they were facing, since they are in lower status it is viewed as pathetic. While in The Big Short, we see the “glamorous” side of addiction, used as a means of celebration or pleasure, hiring prostitutes, doing drugs and gambling, this is seen as an act of fun due to their higher status. “All three were worried that Bear Stearns might fail and be unable to make good on its gambling debts. “There can come a moment when you can’t trade with a Wall Street firm anymore,” said Ben, “and it can come like that.” (Lewis 219). In the novel The Turner House they highlight how the unemployment line was not helpful and both the private and public sectors provided minimal or no help at all. “She’d waited two and a half hours to watch someone push buttons on a keyboard. ‘It says you’re not eligible,’ the woman said. ‘I know it says that,’ Lelah said. ‘That’s why I’m here. I got suspended from my job without pay, so I should be eligible, right?’ ‘Your employer hasn’t put anything in here,’ the woman said.” (Flournoy 119). Lelah, a member of the Turner family, is struggling with being laid off, evicted, and having a gambling addiction. The text describes her trip to the unemployment office, the line being unbearably long, the employees being rude and unhelpful, overall not a successful trip as they sent her to call an automated response machine named MARTHA, rather than assisting her in person. This is an example of the many battles the Turner family faced when being used by the large companies seen in The Big Short.
The Turner House more specifically exemplifies the effect that the housing crisis had on families and groups with lower income, which often includes women, people of color, and people with different ethnicities than in the United States. In this literature, the Turner family tries to short-sell their family house on Yarrow Street. The mortgage of the house was $40,000, but by short-selling the house the Turner family won’t even make $4,000. The thought was to short-sell to Troy Turner’s girlfriend, Jillian, because at the time it was illegal to short-sell to relatives with the current market rate (Lewis 64). Ironically enough, Troy is a police officer in the family and he is the one who initiates breaking the law. People in these positions are supposed to enforce the laws for society, but end up becoming the ones who feel the need to break them. This exemplifies how people in power use their influence to benefit themselves and alter the rules to fit their agenda. This ties into the philosophical Immanuel Kant and his concept of categorical imperative. This is the concept in which people who act immorally and do wrongs such as steal, murder, etc. have a bad understanding of society as they expect others to abide by said rules but they are the expectation and do not have to (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). Throughout both of the novels, corruption is a prevalent issue that takes place during the global market crash. The Turner House has a cop who is involved with questionable activities regarding short-selling the house, while The Big Short touches upon the issue of corruption within the banks and government regarding fraud. The banks continued to loan money to people knowing that they wouldn’t receive the money back, so it was relating to a ticking time bomb that would eventually explode. The Big Short, however, does not highlight many specific cases of who will face accountability and how it, directly or indirectly, still causes regular people economic issues post-2008: “He didn’t even notice you were here. He thought he was speaking in confidence to us. You can’t go holding him accountable for that.” Ever since joining the police force, Troy was quick to become litigious.” (Lewis 8).
When the Turner family decided to short sell their house in order to keep it in the family, they also wanted to get the bank to take a hit. This showed how desperate times were for money, as mortgage payments were increasing and nobody was able to afford it as the house was worth less than what they owed the bank. The Turners have grown up in this house for their whole life, and now nobody is living there except for Lelah for a period of time. The house still is haunting them as they still owe money to the bank and they can almost never get rid of this old, moldy home. With the house still lingering behind the turners like a shadow and Lelah staying there for a period of time it is exceptional to think that, “humans haunt more houses than ghosts do” (Flournoy 312). The book was able to give us an emotional connection with characters such as Lelah and her personal life. We got to experience the effects from the housing crisis, one being unemployment. Lelah said “the prospect that so many white people are unemployed reveals how difficult times really are” (Flournoy 117). This shows that everyone, no matter race, was being affected. Lelah not only was struggling to find a roof under her head, but she also was face to face with addiction and unemployment. The CEOs in The Big Short used addiction as a means of celebration and entertainment, while the people impacted in The Turner House used addiction as a coping mechanism. Lelah turned to gambling, while Cha-Cha consumed alcohol. After Lelah got evicted, she felt she needed to win back money, so even when she earned a profit she wanted more. Whereas, the oldest Turner child, Cha-Cha, reeked of beer, which surprised Lelah since she had never seen him like that before. Overall, The Turner House provided more personal details and a view of the consequences of the global market crash by showing the perspective of those who were impacted the most.
We have compared and contrasted the concepts from The Big Short by Michael Lewis and The Turner House by Angela Flournoy and several other works we have watched. First, “The Old Man and the Storm” shows how people were personally affected by crises’ just like how The Turner House shows the family’s struggles with the financial crisis. “The Old Man and the Storm” demonstrates more of the human side of a crisis, as compared to the business side shown in The Big Short. Unlike “The Old Man and the Storm” the documentary of “Inside Job” showed both points of view, though the documentary had a focus on those who were responsible for the crisis. The documentary showed how people lived in tent cities, how they lived as homeless due to the crisis. The interviews demonstrated the arrogance and lack of accountability in the businessmen of Wall Street. Finally, we made the connection between Fantasia and both The Big Short and The Turner House. Fantasia could be seen as a metaphor for the 2008 market crash: the wizard representing the U.S. government or nation as a whole. They did not stop Mickey who could be seen as the Wall Street tycoons when he kept slacking off and used the magic broom to move water or money in the market. When it got out of control nobody could stop the overflowing water well which could represent the crisis which would cause the market crash. Both Fantasia and the events which would lead up to the 2008 market crash demonstrate examples of moral hazard with both parties facing little to no consequences. All of these pieces of literature tie into one common theme: the market crash is a very complex topic and cannot be answered by one simple answer. Different books and films look at the crash and the events that led up to it with different outlooks and through different perspectives. It is so important to look back at the 2008 housing crisis not only so we can learn from our past mistakes but also to recognize that people are still suffering from these actions fourteen years later. As a society, we should continue to educate ourselves and realize that people have a lot going on in their lives that we may not understand.