Tag Archives: recession

Shake, Rattle and Roll

Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future by Robert B. Reich (Knopf, $14.95, 192 pages)

Robert Reich’s Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future is sectioned into three parts.   In the first two sections, Reich offers arguments for why America’s growing inequality is bad.   The third offers ideas for fixing it.

Part One argues that growing inequality makes it impossible for America’s middle class to consume as much as they produce without going into debt.   The reason for the 2008 meltdown, he argues, was not that Americans had merely spent beyond their means or that Wall Street speculators had trashed the economy, though these he argues were true.   Rather, “their (middle class Americans) means had not kept up with what the larger economy could and should have been able to provide them.”   This is the reason behind the economic collapse.

Part one is the best section of the book.   Reich’s analysis is concise, though well supported.   The argumentation is spot on.   He makes strong points, develops them and supports them without wandering too far from his central theme.   He doesn’t simplify things, but manages to explain them well.

Part two argues that growing inequality will have dangerous social implications if nothing is done to change the direction.   This section begins with a thought experiment involving a fictional future party of populist radicals.   The argument Reich makes here is that capitalism has to be saved from itself.   If the middle class can’t achieve the things they used to, radicals will harness their populist anger and the end result will be the destruction of the economy and capitalism.

The specifics of the thought experiment are a little silly, though not entirely implausible.   It’s also a drawback that he lumps all of the populist anger together into one category.   That’s a bit insulting to middle class intellligence, but maybe Reich is right.   In any case, his main point – that capitalism needs to be saved from itself – is poignant.

Part three cobbles together a  lot of small possible situations, notably changes to tax codes, getting money out of politics, and a complete expansion of Medicare.

The drawback to section three is that there aren’t a lot of connections among the small solutions he cobbles together.   None of them are politically viable.   Reich ends by suggesting that the only real way forward is if financial corporations and the financial elite heed his warning and save capitalism from itself.

The Good:  Reich’s analysis of the structural problem under-girding the American economy appears to be accurate.   His argument is well supported by short at only 147 pages.

The Bad:  Sections two and three of the book simply aren’t as good as the first section.   Section two is purely speculative.   The argument is valid, but the specifics are impractical.   Section three disappoints in its presentation of solutions, which are not politically feasible.

The Bottom Line:  Aftershock is required reading for any progressive wanting to understand the structural economic problem behind the economic meltdown and the barriers to fixing it.   Well recommended.

Trevor Kidd

You can read more from Trevor Kidd at http://trevorkidd.com/ .

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Do the Lighten Up

Lighten Up: Love What You Have, Have What You Need, Be Happier With Less by Peter Walsh (Free Press; $26.00; 304 pages)

This review is of the unabridged audio book version on CDs (Tantor Media; $19.99)

“We’ve lost money but we’ve found a sense of priority in our lives…  We are increasingly conscious of our environment, and no longer have to drive the heftiest SUV on the road.   We don’t care for another 2,000 square feet of living space if we can live comfortably with less.”   Peter Walsh

As was anticipated, Lighten Up is classic Peter Walsh.   Peter is known for taking a patient, thoughtful and respectful stance when approaching his clients’ issues.   Viewers of the many episodes of Clean Sweep, a television show that aired on The Learning Channel, or of his current show on the Oprah Winfrey Network, are familiar with the set up.   Peter answers a request for help from a family with a house full of clutter (also known as junk).   He provides the family with an opportunity to address their underlying issues and at the same time rid themselves of the life-defeating mess that has been robbing them of time, energy and space.

The plan set forth in this latest offer of assistance is specific to the overwhelming problem of debt that has become a world-wide concern.   This is not just a rehash of ideas; rather, Peter frames concepts in the context of digging out from the burden of debt.   A listener living in the USA is the target audience.   The audience includes a full spectrum of folks from those who are buried in debt and the stuff it purchased, to others who’ve got a more manageable financial situation and may desire guidance for keeping on the path of a comfortable, enjoyable life.

The book stays on point using a progression of scenarios and questionnaires to assist the listener in evaluating their own situation.   There are timely cross-references to other books Peter has written.   These books address specific areas of concern and are dealt with in-depth.   The referencing keeps this book focused on the burden of runaway finances.

This reviewer had the audio version of the book and was pleasantly surprised by the use of John Lee as the narrator because Lee’s accent is strongly reminiscent of Peter’s own Australian accent.   Lee gives the listener an easy connection to Peter without being imitative.   This reviewer was surprised to learn that Peter has been a naturalized U.S. citizen for 16 years.   His pride in this fact shows through.

Peter Walsh easily assumes the role of trusted friend and mentor, one who knows how to get an honest response from his client without abusing the trust placed in him.   Lighten Up is enjoyable with both easy-to-absorb concepts and easy-to-use strategies.

Highly recommended.

This review was written by Ruta Arellano.   A copy of the unabridged audiobook was purchased for her.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

People Are Strange

Nothing Happens Until It Happens to You by T. M. Shine (Crown; $23.00; 294 pages)

“It’s time more readers found out about T. M. Shine…  (He’s) one of the funniest writers I know.”   Dave Barry

If you like Dave Barry or David Sedaris, you will undoubtedly like T. M. Shine.   If you love Lisa Scottoline (“Why My Third Husband Will Be A Dog”; “My Nest Isn’t Empty, It Just Has More Closet Space”), you will very likely love T. M. Shine.   Like Barry and Sedaris, Shine is often clever; but more often he’s simply hilarious like Scottoline.   For example, at one point in Nothing Happens, he wonders why drugs have so many listed negative effects.   He asks why there are “never any good side effects like ‘long term use of this medicine could add six inches to your broad jump or lead to…  improved cornering skills while driving at high speeds.’   Stuff like that.”

This is a semi-autobiographical novel about being suddenly unemployed, and then being unemployed for a long period of time.   Shine was, in real life,  laid off from his steady writing gig.   He decided to write a memoir about his experiences but his publisher wanted a novel instead, so this is a true-to-life story.   (If you want to enjoy yourself, Google Shine to find his sadly funny and sometimes quasi-ranting pink slip website.)

The male protagonist Jeffrey Reiner is let go from his job writing for a South Florida weekly.   He initially rushes to find a new job before his severance pay and unemployment benefits run out.   Then he begins to feel guilty for appreciating his free time before finding out that he has a third less time than he thought to get back into the working world (his high maintenance family is burning through his money stash at warp speed).   He eventually wonders if he’ll be out of work so long that he’ll lose all desire to ever work again.   But this is not the least of his problems…

Reiner’s married to a woman whom he knows he’s lucky to be married to, but once he loses his job the glue that holds their relationship together starts to weaken.   Reiner’s wife has in the past found him to be “steady,” something he no longer is; in fact, he’s dazed and confused.   Ironically, as Reiner becomes less comfortable being around his wife (and vice-versa), he develops a strong relationship with his formerly troublesome children and his physically troubled dog.

Reiner winds up tackling some strange jobs assigned to him by a hustler who is not exactly a well-respected man in the community.   He also develops an interesting relationship with the young woman who lives next door, making Reiner’s wife wonder if this is his attempt to be like old Bill Murray in Lost In Translation.   Oh, and he needs to ensure that everyone in his household uses less energy, something that’s nearly impossible – his teenage kids live like nocturnal raccoons.

Anything more said about the storyline would just subtract rather than add to the reader’s enjoyment.   Let’s just say that the tale ends with our protagonist learning about what’s really important in life, and it may not be a corner office.   This one’s fun!

Well recommended.

This review was written by Joseph Arellano.   A review copy was provided by the publisher.

3 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Do You Believe in Magic? (A Review of Busted: Inside the Great Mortgage Meltdown)

Veteran New York Times economics reporter Edmund L.  Andrews uses two distinct voices as he chronicles his and the world’s recent descent into near bankruptcy.   Andrews uses simple sentences and overtly simple logic when he focuses on his own life.   At times the reader is treated to some crude expressions of frustration and hostility as he spreads out his marital dirty laundry.   His new wife, Patty, is often described as the true love and soul mate in his life.   But she is also painted as the primary source of his frustrations and money woes because she is not a “go getter” in the corporate world after being a stay-at-home mom for 20 years in a prior relationship.   Andrews apparently was unaware that people do not change their nature, no matter how much one may want it to happen.

Although Andrews could barely afford a decent apartment in the aftermath of his divorce, he financed an over-priced home on a tree lined street outside Washington, D.C.   His rationale was that he and his new love would be cozy and happy in a cute new abode.

In contrast, Andrews’ accounting of the U.S. and world-wide economic tailspin appears to be simply a compilation of many articles he wrote for the Times.   The polished diction is markedly different from the narrative of his personal tale.   We are told that bogus assumptions were used to justify absurd conclusions and the assumptions were rationalizations for judgments that had no basis in fact.   Andrews often adopts the patronizing tone of a disgruntled professor, to the point where the reader fears the dreaded and inevitable pop quiz!

Subsequent to this book’s publication, it was revealed that new wife Patty twice declared bankruptcy, once during the period covered here.   Andrews’ omission of this fact appears to be a glaring and highly relevant defect in the telling of this flawed morality tale.   At one point, Andrews casually writes “it was easier to borrow a half-million dollars and buy something,” as if he were writing about Monopoly money.   There is something very troubling in the contradiction between the reporter-author’s learned big picture view of the U.S. economy, and his seeming inability to focus on the poor habits that resulted in his own economic distress.   It is a bit like reading a Guide to Good Health written by a four pack-a-day cigarette smoker.

This review was written by Joseph Arellano.   Reprinted courtesy of Sacramento Book Review.Busted (right)

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized