An imperfectly constructed but knowledgeable personal-finance book.

Stories of the Indebted

Newbery (Punk Rocker, 2016, etc.) shares stories of cleverly settled debt in this memoir.

During his career as a property owner in the early 2000s, the author accrued his fair share of debt; at one time, he writes, he owned more than 4,000 apartments across the United States. By dealing with his creditors and attempting to negotiate his way back into the black, he says that he learned how the American financial system is stacked against borrowers. Luckily, he also learned ways that borrowers can use that system to their advantage to escape huge amounts of debt without bankrupting themselves or losing their homes: “every debt has a unique set of circumstances,” Newbery explains, “and creditors are constantly making errors. You just need to find the errors and exploit them.” The best thing to do, he warns, is to not go into debt, but for those who already have, he offers some advice. He walks readers through a series of chapters that each deal with a peculiar debt scenario, and he shows how informed and assiduous debtors (real people, with names changed) extricated themselves with minimal damage. In one chapter, for instance, he recounts how he settled a $5.8 million debt for only $225,000. In another, he tells how he helped a friend avoid a foreclosure on her home with a passive-aggressive strategy of inaction. In a third, he reveals how a tumultuous breakup with his beloved Southwest credit card led to embarrassment while trying to pay a bill at an Olive Garden restaurant. Newbery clearly knows his stuff: the scenarios he describes are highly particular, and he spends time going into great detail, weighing the various options available to the person in question. However, his decision to offer lightly fictionalized anecdotes, rather than essays, is curious; they read like Socratic dialogues, and the artifice of the form is somewhat distracting. Even so, readers will be able to glean a great deal of helpful information from Newbery’s experiences, and they’ll walk away with a firmer understanding of the intricacies of his subject.

An imperfectly constructed but knowledgeable personal-finance book.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-61961-491-8

Page Count: 166

Publisher: Community Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2016

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Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...

THINKING, FAST AND SLOW

A psychologist and Nobel Prize winner summarizes and synthesizes the recent decades of research on intuition and systematic thinking.

The author of several scholarly texts, Kahneman (Emeritus Psychology and Public Affairs/Princeton Univ.) now offers general readers not just the findings of psychological research but also a better understanding of how research questions arise and how scholars systematically frame and answer them. He begins with the distinction between System 1 and System 2 mental operations, the former referring to quick, automatic thought, the latter to more effortful, overt thinking. We rely heavily, writes, on System 1, resorting to the higher-energy System 2 only when we need or want to. Kahneman continually refers to System 2 as “lazy”: We don’t want to think rigorously about something. The author then explores the nuances of our two-system minds, showing how they perform in various situations. Psychological experiments have repeatedly revealed that our intuitions are generally wrong, that our assessments are based on biases and that our System 1 hates doubt and despises ambiguity. Kahneman largely avoids jargon; when he does use some (“heuristics,” for example), he argues that such terms really ought to join our everyday vocabulary. He reviews many fundamental concepts in psychology and statistics (regression to the mean, the narrative fallacy, the optimistic bias), showing how they relate to his overall concerns about how we think and why we make the decisions that we do. Some of the later chapters (dealing with risk-taking and statistics and probabilities) are denser than others (some readers may resent such demands on System 2!), but the passages that deal with the economic and political implications of the research are gripping.

Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our minds.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-27563-1

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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