The Fifth Risk

Michael Lewis

Rating: 9 out of 10.

The Fifth Risk is fascinating and compelling journey into the heart of the US political system. The book lurches between cold realisation that, quite often, no one is truly in control of the US State apparatus and also a sense of dread for just how vulnerable modern society is to the whims of individuals; particularly those of a right-wing disposition.

“What are the consequences if the people given control over our government have no idea how it works?”

At times, the answer is terrifying.

It is also a damning indictment of the Donald Trump administration and all of the mechanisms and deceptions that led to his elevation to the Office of the President of the United States.

When read alongside the classic The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt it shows just how much the soft underbelly of democracy is exposed.

Select Quotes & Notes

The Department of Energy alone is a $30 Billion a-year organization with 110,000 employees. The Trump landing team, led by Thomas Pyle (a former propogandist for Exxon and Kock Industries), showed up for one meeting, didn’t take any notes, and left.

The trump team didn’t want to understand, they merely wanted a list of all DOE staff who attended Social Cost of Carbon meetings or the UN Framework for Climate Change. It was McCarthyism.

Their intent was clear, we don’t want to understand how the Department runs, we want to punish you.

Kevin Knobloch, DOE Chief of Staff

There was a mentality that everything the government does is stupid and bad and the government staff are stupid and bad as well. Roughly half of the $30 billion is spent on guarding and maintaining the nuclear arsenal. $2B of that goes to hunting down weapons grade plutonium in the world so terrorists can source it and use it; from 2010 to 2018 the DOE NNSA collected enough material to make 160 nuclear bombs. Trump never even let the Chief Financial Officer of this organisation know he was no longer required. Joe Hezir just left one day.

Trump had not nominated anyone to head The Patent Office or to go and run the Federal Emergency Management Agency. There was no Trump candidate to run the Transportation Security Administration or the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.

There was a belief that the market forces should handle everything. But, the market does not go into a lab and work on something that might not work. Government has always played a major role in innovation, right back to the founding of the USA. Early-stage innovation in most industries would not have been possible without without government support in a variety of ways. Especially in energy. So the idea that all early-stage innovation should be privatized is preposterous.

John MacWilliams

The US Department of Agriculture name is seriously misleading; it does so much more. It runs 193 million acres of forest and grasslands, it inspects nearly every animal Americans eat including the 9 billion birds every year. It has a fleet of aircraft specifically for firefighting and a bank with $220 million in assets. The USDA does so much that there is a drinking game in government called guess if the USDA does it? Most of the time…it does. The budget is $164 Billion.

To hand over to the Trump Administration the staff had produced a handover consisting of 2300 pages in 13 volumes. Trump appointed a former lobbyist from PepsiCo called Joel Leftwich. He did not show up on the first day. Or the next week.

When Joel did show up, he stayed for approximately one hour and no one arrived at the USDA until a month later when Joel sent one man called Brian Klippenstein. The only thing Brian wanted to focus on was getting the list of names of people focussed on climate change.

The USDA had 100,000 staff to learn from so Brian added 3 people to his team.