POUND FOOLISH by Helaine Olen


Exposing the Dark Side of the Personal Finance Industry
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Dishy dirt on the “financialization” of American life and the hordes of carrion-pickers who swarm us in the hope of lifting still more dollars from our pockets.

By Forbes.com blogger and former Los Angeles Times writer Olen’s account, this financialization was a bit haphazard and not entirely well-planned-out. The IRA, for example, was intended as a supplement to other retirement measures, whereas “what we today think of as the natural retirement planning landscape started as an accident, a 1978 shift in the tax code designed to clarify a few highly technical points about profit-sharing plans offered by many corporations to high-ranking employees.” Lest it make you feel cuddly to think that your retirement account has its source in something meant for the rich and powerful, Olen observes that it’s a mook’s game these days: Whereas in the 1950s, only 5 percent of Americans were in the stock market, by 2000, that had gone up to fully half, with a vast industry peeling off dollars in the form of management fees, commissions and so forth. The stock market and its ancillaries received promotion as “a way to gain wealth we could not gain through conventional savings or earnings strategies.” Unconventional means risky, as a generation of shorn investors has recently come to appreciate, but that risk doesn’t stop us from wanting to try our luck again—and that brings in a bunch of Olen’s bugaboos, including the “wealth creation seminar business” and people like Suze Orman, “whose riches came from…lecturing the rest of us on our inability to manage our funds.”

A nice takedown, particularly in its acknowledgement that the deck is always stacked against “participants in a vast experiment” of the deregulated marketplace—namely, the little guys.

Pub Date: Dec. 27th, 2012
ISBN: 978-1-59184-489-1
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Portfolio
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 2012


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