Panic in Paradise is a comprehensive study of bank loan failures during the Florida land boom of the mid-1920s, during the years preceding the stock market crash of 1929. Florida and Georgia experienced a banking panic in 1926 when in a ten-day period in July, after uncontrollable depositor runs, 117 banks closed in the two states. Uninsured depositors lost millions, and several suicides followed the financial havoc. During the crisis in Florida bank assets fell more than $300 million in 1926 alone, and between 1926 and 1929, they declined from $943 million to $375 million. The banking debacle has been blamed on the collapse of the Florida land boom. It was believed that the precipitous drop in real estate values created a regional recession that caused the banks to fail. Bankers were not regarded as the problem. In fact, they were defended by bank regulators, who blamed the crisis on the public. Banks that operated prudently during this period survived the deceleration of the land boom. But many bankers looted the financial institutions they pledged to protect. They tried to get rich by wildly speculating with depositors' money. When their schemes failed, so did their banks. Using bank records that had been legally sealed for almost 70 years, Vickers demonstrates that despite official disclaimers and previous historical accounts, virtually every bank failure that occurred in Florida and Georgia during 1926 involved massive insider abuses, a conscious conspiracy to defraud, or both. Regulatory secrecy permitted the banking debacle to grow beyond control as regulators concealed the magnitude of the problem. If depositors had known what banking officials knew, the panic would not haveoccurred. Depositors did not know the true condition of the banks because insider abuses and fraud were hidden by regulatory secrecy. Bank examiners reported the self-dealings to senior regulators, who passively watched the looting and withheld the truth from the depositors. Even wh
Raymond Vickers, whose background includes a law degree, a Ph.D. in history, and four years as assistant comptroller of Florida (which made him Chief of Staff of the Florida Department of Banking and Finance) is uniquely qualified to provide a thorough disclosure of the Florida banking debacle of the 1920s. His long-term research and successful lawsuits designed to force the disclosure of sealed records have brought him to the attention of such major media outlets as the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, in which Vickers said: "I haven't found a single bank failure that didn't involve a conscious conspiracy to defraud."