At the height of the roaring ’20s, Swedish ‘migr’ Ivar Kreuger made a fortune raising money in America and loaning it to Europe in exchange for matchstick monopolies. His enterprise was a rare success story throughout the Great Depression.
Yet after Kreuger’s suicide in 1932, the true nature of his empire emerged. Driven by success to adopt ever-more perilous practices, Kreuger had turned to shell companies in tax havens, fudged accounting figures, off-balance-sheet accounting, even forgery. He created a raft of innovative financial products — many of them precursors to instruments wreaking havoc in today’s markets. When his Wall Street empire collapsed, millions went bankrupt.
Frank Partnoy, a frequent commentator on financial disaster for the Financial Times, New York Times, NPR, and CBS’s “60 Minutes,” recasts the life story of a remarkable yet forgotten genius in ways that force us to re-think our ideas about the wisdom of crowds, the invisible hand, and the free and unfettered market.