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Monday, August 01, 2011

Biography of A Bank: The Story of Bank of America by Marquis James and Bessie R. James

Biography of a Bank: The Story of Bank of America
by Marquis James and Bessie R. James
p. 1954

   One of the aspects of grad school level humanities culture that I find most amusing is studied ignorance about all things economic.  Occasional Malcolm Gladwell and Freakonomics style magazine articles aside, people who work in non-business related professions and non-business related academic disciplines- not to mention you average college graduate hipster, display a level of knowledge about economics equivalent to what can be placed as a caption on a Che Guevara bearing t-shirt.

  That's a pity, because the average Fortune 500 corporation is wayyyyy more important to our daily lives then the average book on 18th century British literature.  It's not really fashionable or cool to shine a bright beam of light at the history of our 20th century American Corporate Titans, but this book is one example- I literally found it in the back room of a crazy-ass cool book store in Yucca Valley, CA.

  Far from being a leftist expose of said Bank of America, Biography of a Bank is a bought and paid for hagiography of Bank of America's founder,  A.P Giannani, who is presented in this puff piece as a kind of Horatio Alger-meets-Homeric hero.  However, because it's so duecedly difficult to find ANY similar kind of narrative, interesting nuggets can't but help slip through the cracks.

    Giannani's vision of a single national bank ministering to every single US citizen has taken a starkly dystopian cast in recent calendar years.  Much of the underlying mortgage crisis and concurrent Recession/Depression, as well as the weakness of the recovery, can in some way be attributed to changes in our Banking system that would have no doubt pleased Giannani, but would also appear to this Titan of 20th century Business as a distressing development.  For example, Bank of America itself is now a national and international bank (good) headquartered in Charlotte North Carolina (bad.)

   Basically, the picture I got from Biography of A Bank is that banking is a pretty good gig but you have the Feds and State government up your butt every single minute.  In retrospect, Giannani had a lot of positive contributions to our Economy- especially in California- he was a pioneer in extending consumer credit, in funding single home mortgages, in bankrolling California based industries like Motion Pictures AND Bank of America was instrumental in financing the World War II manufacturing effort, which, more then anything, is responsible for the California we see around us today.

   Bank of America, with it's emphasis on accumulating the deposits of "the little guy" was a bank for it's time and place- California in the 20th century.  Undoubtably, decisions were made in more recent times that have damaged  BAC as it's now known on the stock exchange.  Biography of a Bank is a well written first chapter of a two chapter story.  I'm actually inclined to buy the stock at 9 dollars- seems cheap for all that tradition, even if it's tarnished.

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