Public Administration
Fragile By Design


Reviewed by Caner Bakir

After the onset of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC), Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II asked economists at the London School of Economics in November 2008, ‘Why did no one see it coming?’ Orthodox economists and political economists, and international political economy (IPE) scholars, especially those belonging to the American IPE, have had a dismal record in anticipating financial crises (Palan 2009)….

» Download the pdf.

New York Times
Fragile By Design

How Banks Fail
April 11, 2014

Reviewed by Liaquat Ahamed

Five years after the drama that began in 2008 — the failure of one bank after another, the decline in the stock market and the freezing up of finance — we still cannot seem to agree about the causes of the crisis. There are some who like to pin all the blame on the corrupt business practices of Wall Street and the greed of bankers…

» See full article in the New York Times Sunday Book Review.

Financial Times
Fragile By Design

Financial Times
March 23, 2014

Reviewed by Martin Sandbu

One reason why economists did not see the financial crisis coming is that the models most macro and financial economists deal in are free of politics. Fragile by Design offers a much-needed supplement. This sweeping account of how banking and politics have always been intertwined spans three centuries and five countries: the UK, the US, Canada, Mexico and Brazil.

» See full article in the Financial Times.

National Review
Fragile By Design

national-review-book-reviewThe Politics of Banking
May 5, 2014

Reviewed by Diana Furchtgott-Roth

If you have time to read only one book about the causes of the 2008 financial collapse, read this one. You will discover that the banking crises that occur in some countries but not others are part of the “fragile design” of the banking system. They are not simply random occurrences, but come about as the product of political systems, part of a bargain among competing political interests….

» See full article in the National Review Online.

Cato Journal
Fragile By Design

cato-journal-coverCato Journal
September 22, 2014

Reviewed by Vern McKinley

Charles Calomiris and Stephen Haber have taken on a big task in their book, Fragile by Design: The Political Origins of Banking Crises and Scarce Credit. Their goal is to explain the double hit that economies and financial systems suffer when they experience a banking crisis and then the tightening of credit that often follows. In order to keep the final product manageable, and thus avoid having a 2,000 page book, the authors limit their case studies to the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, Mexico, and Brazil. Their time frame extends back to the 17th century. At its core, their argument is that financial crises are not random; they flow from the “Game of Bank Bargains”—that is, political deals that dictate everything in a banking system from the issuance of licenses to the means for distribution of credit.

» See full article in the Cato Journal
Fragile By Design
September 2014
Reviewed by Hugh Rockoff

Charles W. Calomiris and Stephen H. Haber, two of America’s leading financial historians, have written an ambitious and in my view a largely successful book to provide an explanation for the political economy of banking through history and across nations. The central question is why some banking systems provide both abundant credit and financial stability over long periods while others, including unfortunately the financial system of the United States, fail to do so.

» See full article on

The Federalist Society
Fragile By Design

federalist-societyThe Federalist Society
August 04, 2014
Reviewed by Andrew Olmem

For most people, the Financial Crisis of 2008 was an unexpected, unforgettable, and harrowing event. For Charles Calomiris of Columbia University and Stephen Haber of Stanford University, however, the crisis was just the latest in a long series of banking crises throughout American history. By their count, the United States has endured 12 banking crises since 1840. In their view, the more surprising and consequential number is the number of banking crises experienced by Canada during the same time period: zero.

In Fragile by Design, Calomiris and Haber set out to explain why some countries, like the United States, appear prone to banking crises, while other countries, like Canada, have been crisis free. Their conclusion is that it all comes down to politics. While this may appear to be an easy answer, their account of how politics shapes banking systems is a must-read for anyone interested in understanding the complex, political foundations of banking.

» See full article in The Federalist Society.

The Independent
Fragile By Design

indy-masthead-smallThe Independent
Friday 21 March 2014
Reviewed by Vicky Pryce

Politicians here and elsewhere have made their name by attacking bankers’ greed, other countries’ mistakes, globalisation, deregulation, central bankers’ blindness, too loose monetary policy, you name it-except usually themselves. There is no denying that these issues matter and contributed to inflaming the 2008 crisis. All sorts of new ideas on how to make the system safer are constantly being suggested and many being implemented- increasing capital requirements; (forlorn) attempts to restrain bankers’ bonuses; ring-fencing retail and investment banking; abolishing proprietary dealing (the Volker rule); increasing competition; or setting up proper resolution regimes for ‘ too big to fail’ banks…

» See full article in the The Independent.

Journal of Regulation and Risk
Fragile By Design

Journal of Regulation and RiskMarriage of government and banks: For better or for worse!
Volume VI, Issue I – Spring, 2014
Reviewed by Alex J. Pollock

Fragile by Design: The Political Origins of Banking Crises and Scarce Credit, by Charles Calomiris and Stephen Haber, combining their scholarship of banking and political institutions, is a book full of fertile ideas, instructive histories of the evolution of a number of banking systems, and provocative interpretations of the co-dependency between banks and governments.

» See full article in the Journal of Regulation and Risk.

Financial World
Fragile By Design

fw_logoFinancial World
April 2014

Reviewed by Andrew Hilton

Charles Calomiris is a financial economist at Columbia. Stephen Haber is a political scientist at Stanford. Both are fairly robust free marketers, associated with the American Enterprise Institute and the Hoover Institution, and both are pretty distinguished in their fields — which means their magisterial (570 pages) volume on what they (inelegantly) call the “Game of Bank Bargains” is worth some bath time…

» Click here to download the pdf.

Liberty Law Blog
Fragile By Design

Liberty Law Blog
April 2, 2014

by Alex J. Pollock

Charles Calomiris and Stephen Haber, combining their scholarly command of banking and political institutions, have published a book full of fertile ideas, instructive histories of the evolution of a number of banking systems, and provocative interpretations of the co-dependency between banks and governments.

» See full article in the Liberty Law Blog.

Fragile By Design

The Achilles Heel of Banking
March 1, 2014

Reviewed by Gene Epstein

This readable, erudite, myth-busting tome has a somewhat ambiguous title. By calling the banking systems of the U.S. and other nations “fragile by design,” Columbia University finance professor Charles Calomiris and Stanford University political-science professor Stephen Haber are not claiming that the designers of these systems intend them to be fragile.

» See full article in Barron’s.

Times Higher Education
Fragile By Design

Times Higher Education
February 20, 2014

Reviewed by Gene Epstein

“We get the banking system we deserve” would be a one-sentence summary of the 500 or so pages of Fragile by Design. A slightly longer precis might include the idea that every nation makes its own choices about the type of financial institutions it wants, about the nature of competition between them, and about the balance struck between innovation and risk, on the one hand, and safety and stability on the other. The authors describe the process of making these choices as “the game of Bank Bargains”.

» See full article in Times Higher Education.