SERPENT ON THE ROCK

An absorbing and definitive take on the criminally unscrupulous deceptions committed by Prudential Securities in its aggressive marketing of chancy limited partnerships during the 1980s. Drawing on a wealth of authoritative sources, New York Times correspondent Eichenwald offers a tellingly detailed account of the long-lived scandal and its enormous toll. In roughly chronological fashion, he recounts how Pru, an insurance colossus (that likens its integrity and stability to the Rock of Gibraltar), almost offhandedly acquired Bache, a Wall Street also-ran, in 1981. The cash-strapped brokerage house nonetheless had a lucrative niche in oil/gas, real estate, and other kinds of limited partnerships that its registered reps pushed on all comers as high-yield investments with tax advantages. At the upper echelons of the corporate hierarchy, it was an open secret that the partnerships Pru-Bache was assiduously packaging and peddling in billion-dollar lots were extremely risky propositions. Thanks to flashy promotional material that minimized or ignored egregious LP hazards (including a lack of secondary markets), the RRs were duped along with their clients. When returns missed forecast marks or disappeared altogether, though, Pru and its partnership sponsors stonewalled queries and complaints, whether from employees or customers. The author makes a particularly good job of recapping how underfunded but determined state regulators helped the SEC bring Pru to book and ensure equitable recoveries for bilked investors. And unlike Kathleen Sharp in her account (In Good Faith, p. 765), Eichenwald leaves precious little doubt that the venality was systemic, not attributable to a few corrupt individuals. And he provides ample evidence of the enduring swindle's vast human costs on both the sell and buy sides. A masterful reconstruction of a substantive financial scandal, one that bears comparison with such landmark exposÇs as Barbarians at the Gate, Den of Thieves, and The Predators' Ball. (8 pages photos, not seen) ($100,000 ad/promo; author tour)

Pub Date: Aug. 2, 1995

ISBN: 0-88730-720-5

Page Count: 496

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1995

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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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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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