Micheal Lewis

Book: The Fifth Risk

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When I think about political campaigning, especially in the United States, I imagine a spectacle of grandeur – politicians rallying, having an immense number of supporters around them with slogans and matching hats, spitting into microphones mostly vague nationalistic rants alongside a much less emphasised political program. Their websites usually spurt out a program a bit more detailed in terms of the economy mostly, but nothing of real substance is really presented to the general public. The debates focus on broad terms like the military and healthcare, not really going in depth, the focus being mostly on the differences between the programs of the candidates – the juicy bits that can be quoted later in the press, the personal attacks.
The administrative system is formed by a significant number of agencies and an even more significant number of employees, each doing a specific task that not a lot of people are talking about, really. The pundits in the media sometimes mention certain entities and the fact that the candidates do no give proper attention to them, but the media usually makes them change their message in commentating about whatever trivial scandal is going on in the particular day, if not hour. What we are left with is a political show, a circus where wits and attacks are key in winning votes, the idea of presenting a detailed program that takes into consideration all the little aspects of an administrative challenge are left unsaid – the public is not interested and the media has very little time allocated to this type of subjects. We have to trust that the political parties are in charge of this, that they are building the teams of each candidate with experts that, at a certain point, will take care of the serious and unglamorous issues that such a task will face. But are they?
In theory, there are people that make sure that the administration that is leaving is giving proper handover to the administration that it will be replacing it – once the main candidates are known they are expected to send teams of people to meet with the current administration and make sure that continuity will be present after the elections. And it is in this moment the book by Michael Lewis really kicks in – although these things have been thought out and put in practice, even to the point in which congress pays for the teams of the political candidates, so they don’t have to do it through their campaign money, it does not happen. We are faced with a very brutal truth: candidates are focused solely on winning and will do only what will give them a competitive edge, there is no time spent on other issues, some maybe more important than a rally; but the biggest issue of all is the fact that they do not even assign experts that are willing to do such tasks, they just pass this responsibility to their son-in-laws, who are neither interested or competent enough.
The book is a grim introduction to what the administrative body of the United States is and how it works and how it has been left to work on its own – very little attention has been given to certain crucial departments, almost no interest in a proper handover. The worst of all? The people that were assigned to control these entities are corporate men that have very little experience in these areas and their main focus is to make them profitable (for them!), although they were never thought of being for profit, but for protection and help of the citizens.
Explained clearly, in layman terms, and filled with interviews and discussions with proper experts in their fields, the book is a warning to the citizens of the United States, but also to people that live in other countries – we have created a society that is very complex and we need experts to take care of the things that make our life what it is, that uphold the standard of our quality of life, and these are the real issues that politicians should really focus on – having resources to help farmers produce enough food to feed the entire country, allocation of funds to agencies that protect the public from nuclear waste that has been dumped in improper conditions, hiring meteorologists that know how to read weather predictions and inform the public when they need to defend themselves from an imminent hurricane. Sounds boring, that’s why no one wants to listen to it, but it is more important than being clever in front of a microphone.