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Review: "Tower of Basel" Exposes Bank Which Could Have Stopped Subprime Meldown - But Didn't

By Matthew Russell Lee, Capsule Review

UNITED NATIONS/NYC, May 19 -- Why did it take so long for someone to write an investigative book about the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision and Bank for International Settlements? Henry Morgenthau tried to close down the BIS in 1945 for having collaborated with the Nazis.

  While it doesn't seem to have been what triggered author Adam Lebor's interest in Basel, the subprime financial meltdown since 2008 certainly makes how and on what issues global bank regulation is directed a matter of more general concern.

  If the central bankers who meet every two months in Basel had been concerned for the lower income people being targeted with high cost mortgages, it is possible that Countrywide, Ameriquest and CitiFinancial which made the loans, and Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch and Citigroup which were among the largest securitizers, would not have failed or required huge bailouts.

  Lebor, whose seven previous non-fiction books include one criticizing the UN for its role in Srebrenica and elsewhere, runs through the history of Basel and its past and present lack of transparency in his "Tower of Basel," officially out in June from PublicAffairs.

  In a perfunctory hat-tip to social media, the Bank has a twitter account @bis_org, whose 13,000 followers Lebor cites while noting that all tweets are to already publicly available documents like speeches. This from, as Lebor's subtitle has it, "The Secret Bank that Runs the World."

  What if the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, even now, were to set minimum standards for consumer protection? Who might even propose it? The US Federal Reserve's Daniel Tarullo is coming in atop the Financial Stability Board, the incoming head of the Bank of England.

  Meanwhile Canada's Mark Carney, who most recently noted by Inner City Press at the White House Correspondents Dinner table of Reuters, servicer of high frequently traders: a veritable nerd-prom of conflict of interest.

  Lebor's book will be helpful for future work on and in Basel. His "Complicity with Evil: The UN in the Age of Modern Genocide" has provided useful; it could be updated with chapters on for example Sri Lanka and the UN bringing cholera to Haiti then dismissing all legal claims.

  Lebor is based in Budapest, and Hungary appears more than it otherwise might in his book. He is, this same month, releasing a free e-book short story, and traveling to New York to give a June 4 talk at the Museum of American Finance. We recommend both.

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