Talking to liberal author Michael Lewis on Monday's Rock Center on NBC about the Greek financial crisis, anchor Brian Williams wondered: "...what's the one thing you want to shout from the mountaintops, a message that is in all of your books that people aren't hearing, aren't paying attention to?"
Lewis called for an end to big banks: "...we still have at the center of our life these massive banks that are too big to fail. And they should've been broken up three years ago....why we are sitting here today...with these institutions that basically have us at their mercy...is beyond me." He then concluded: "So what I would shout from the rooftops is, get out into the streets with the Occupy Wall Street movement and protest."
Williams simply remarked in response: "Michael Lewis, the message appropriately from Berkeley, California."
On the October 31 premiere of Rock Center, Williams worried that Daily Show host Jon Stewart was being too tough on the Occupy Wall Street protesters.
Here is a full transcript of Williams's November 7 discussion with Lewis:
BRIAN WILLIAMS: Michael Lewis is with us tonight from Berkeley, California and he has become one of the celebrated authors of our generation. The movie form of his book "Moneyball" is now in theaters. He wrote "The Blind Side," he wrote "The Big Short," "Liars Poker," and now "Boomerang," which presciently takes us right where the story is tonight. Michael, first of all, for all of us who are members of a lay audience, how is it that the Greek economy finds a way to reach into our pockets, bank accounts, retirement accounts?
MICHAEL LEWIS: It's kind of incredible, isn't it? I mean, not just the Greek economy, but the short-term gyrations in Greek politics seems to register immediately in the American stock market. And there are a couple of things that are going on. One is that the financial world, it's way too interconnected.
So if Greece is going to default on this half a trillion dollars in government debt, and the people are going to lose money, and the people on the other end of that, who've lent the money, are mainly bankers. So it throws into question the solvency of banks, mainly European banks. But the European banks are, of course, connected up to American banks. And so when people see Greece default they think, 'Oh my God, the banking sector is going to go down, again.'
But the other thing is, is just, you know, the market is a mood. And so the general malaise in Europe and the prospect that Greece going down leads to Italy and Spain and bigger economies defaulting on their debts casts this pall over the market.
WILLIAMS: Well, let's back up two sentences there. Let's do the difference between hearing Greece is in trouble and hearing Italy's in trouble.
LEWIS: Well, it's just – it's size. I mean, the Europeans have structured a rescue fund that is being basically rammed down the throats of the Greek people. But it's not clear they want the terms of the deal. But the fund is big enough to probably deal with the Greek losses. It's not big enough to deal with the Italian losses. And the reason for that is that the Germans, basically, are going to end up paying the bill and the German public doesn't want to do it. I mean, there's already outrage in Germany about paying this Greek tab. So it's very interesting. At the top of European politics, you've got elites generating a sort of results that the people who elected them don't approve of. The Germans don't want to bail out the Greeks and the Greeks don't apparently really want to be bailed out.
WILLIAMS: For an art history major in college, as I once read you once were, you've gone on to become one of the chroniclers of the economic meltdown. And you've accurately described it, made a handsome living at it. As someone who is as steeped in it as you are, what's the one thing you want to shout from the mountaintops, a message that is in all of your books that people aren't hearing, aren't paying attention to?
LEWIS: Well, apropos of this crisis, I mean, if you ask why is it that we are so vulnerable to this event, you know, far from our shores, the answer is that we still have at the center of our life these massive banks that are too big to fail. And they should've been broken up three years ago. When their solvency is called into question it has this massive ripple effect on the economy. And why we are sitting here today, three years after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, with these institutions that basically have us at their mercy, and are at the mercy of the Greek government, you know, is beyond me. So what I would shout from the rooftops is, get out into the streets with the Occupy Wall Street movement and protest.
WILLIAMS: Michael Lewis, the message appropriately from Berkeley, California. Thanks very much, Michael, for being with us on the broadcast tonight.