Sunday, January 12, 2014


I went book-browsing yesterday. I look at books on the web all the time—and try and keep track of the most interesting (a near hopeless task) but for all the advantages of the internet, it is not an adequate substitute for a physical bookstore.

There is something very special about real printed books. E-books will certainly go a long way towards replacing and supplementing them—for reasons of cost and convenience, apart from anything else—but I don’t think physical books are going to vanish completely ever. If they did, I would be inexplicably sad (though also dead, fortunately). It’s nothing that’s going to happen in the balance of my life.

I owe books more than I can ever express—and though we authors are supposed to be a crotchety bunch, I have been very fortunate in my author friends as well. Idiosyncratic? Certainly – but overall they are—and were (some are dead) a decent bunch of decidedly talented people. I would like to be able to say the same thing about agents and publishers, but I cannot. There is a sharp divide between creative people and those who exploit them.

I tend to browse by theme and will happily buy books by completely unknown authors if the content looks likely to help me on my quest to understand a particular area. Exploring the unknown is one of the many pleasures of book browsing. Since I’m currently much preoccupied with the economy, two books drew my particular attention. In this case, neither were by unknowns.

One was BULL BY THE HORNS by the redoubtable SHEILA BAIR—a woman I admire greatly because she is a beacon of integrity in a remarkably corrupt financial world. She is also an attractive character, both to look at and in terms of her demeanor—and when she speaks or writes to an issue, there is content, commonsense, calmness, and passion (and humor).  Contrast that with the performances of various bankers in Congress and you will see exactly what I mean. And she is a thoroughly entertaining writer.

Who is she? Sheila Colleen Bair was the Chair of the FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation) until recently. Remarkably, she was a Bush appointee in 2006—but she is clearly a moderate Republican (as rare as hens’ teeth) who actually cares about the average American—as opposed to fighting solely for the financial elites and their interests.

Since the FDIC is the outfit that insures the banks, she was an insider during The Great Recession. Her book is an insider’s look at how events unfolded and it does not paint a flattering picture. But, it’s a terrific read.

The following is Sheila Bair’s Graph of the Year. It appeared in the Washington Post in Wonkblog on December 30 2013. It makes the point that for a large number of American households, there has been no economic recovery.

bair graph

This chart, drawn from a report by the Sentier Research Group, shows that for a large number of American households, there has been no economic recovery. Caught in a vice of chronic unemployment and falling wages, real median household income (excluding capital gains and losses but including cash government benefits) has declined 4.4% since the “recovery” began in 2009. For many households, the drop has been more severe.  For African-American households, it is 10.9%.  For those under 25 years old, it is 9.6%.  For single females with children, it is 7.5%. Indeed, the only households to experience an increase in real income are those 65 to 74 years old.

So as the investor class celebrates the stock market’s bubbly 25% gain in 2013 courtesy of quantitative easing, let’s not forget the plight of those Americans who work for a living. And in 2014, let’s face up to the ineffectiveness of monetary policy to help them and the desperate need for fiscal leadership to generate real, sustainable growth.

Hear! Hear! But, are the movers and shakers facing up to such realities? So far, I fear not.

I’ll write about the second book tomorrow.

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