The Public Interest

Decade of greed?

Jay P. Lefkowitz

Summer 1996

IN Payback: The Conspiracy to Destroy Michael Milken and his Financial Revolution,† Daniel Fischel sets out to refute one of the most popular myths of the Reagan era: that Milken, the media’s poster boy for the “decade of greed,” was a crook who used “junk bonds” to help unscrupulous financiers plunder corporate America and bankrupt the savings and loan industry.  According to Fischel, Milken was victimized by three groups with complementary agendas: politically ambitious government prosecutors, old-line establishment bankers, and congressional regulators of the banking industry. And all of their efforts were supported by the popular press, which seemed to take the position that anyone who made as much money as Milken (more than $500 million in 1987) had to be dishonest.  Written with the persuasiveness of a legal brief, Payback is a powerful indictment of the U.S. government for meddling with the marketplace and scapegoating Milken for its own failure to save the savings and loan industry.

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