Book Bits For Saturday: 1.14.2012

Broke: How Debt Bankrupts the Middle Class
Edited by Katherine Porter
Summary via publisher, Stanford University Press
While the recession that began in mid-2007 has widened the scope of the financial pain caused by over-indebtedness, the problem predated that large-scale economic meltdown. And by all indicators, consumer debt will be a defining feature of middle-class families for years to come. The staples of middle-class life—going to college, buying a house, starting a small business—carry with them more financial risk than ever before, requiring more borrowing and new riskier forms of borrowing. This book reveals the people behind the statistics, looking closely at how people get to the point of serious financial distress, the hardships of dealing with overwhelming debt, and the difficulty of righting one’s financial life. In telling the stories of financial failures, this book exposes an all-too-real part of middle-class life that is often lost in the success stories that dominate the American economic narrative. Authored by experts in several disciplines, including economics, law, political science, psychology, and sociology, Broke presents analyses from an original, proprietary data set of unprecedented scope and detail, the 2007 Consumer Bankruptcy Project. Topics include class status, home ownership, educational attainment, impacts of self-employment, gender differences, economic security, and the emotional costs of bankruptcy. The book makes judicious use of illustrations to present key findings and concludes with a discussion of the implications of the data for contemporary policy debates.

Financing Failure: A Century of Bailouts
By Vern McKinley
Summary via publisher, The Independent Institute
During the recent financial crisis no issue has aroused more passion than financial institution bailouts. The standard rationale for the bailouts has been one of necessity and fear: federal regulatory agencies must have more authority in order to respond to the crisis, or else the public will face terrible consequences. But does this rationale hold up to close inspection? In Financing Failure, Vern McKinley approaches the topic by examining the policy decisions behind the bailouts and by showing their connection to previous government interventions. He brings under scrutiny the policy decisions made by the Treasury Department, the Federal Reserve, and the FDIC during the crisis of the 2000s and links them to policies that go back as far as the 1930s. This history of bailouts reveals that the genesis of financial crisis is government policy, be it the mismanagement of monetary policy during the 1930s or the political push to expand homeownership that helped cause the 2000s crisis.
Behavioral Investment Management: An Efficient Alternative to Modern Portfolio Theory
By Greg B. Davies and Arnaud de Servigny
Summary via publisher, McGraw-Hill
Written by leading money managers with expertise in both quantitative and behavioral finance, this cutting-edge guide shows institutional investment managers, retail investors, and investment advisors how to use the latest theories and techniques from the field of behavioral finance to construct better-performing portfolios. After systematically deconstructing MPT to illustrate why it does not work empirically, this one-of-a-kind book presents a reasonable framework for improving your ability to generate high-performing portfolios. The applicability and strategic consequences of this book’s approach set a new standard for portfolio development that will put you far ahead of the industry curve.
Behavioral Finance and Wealth Management: How to Build Optimal Portfolios That Account for Investor Biases
By Michael Pompian
Excerpt via publisher, Wiley
At its core, behavioral finance attempts to understand and explain actual investor and market behaviors versus theories of investor behavior. This idea differs from traditional (or standard) finance, which is based on assumptions of how investors and markets should behave. Wealth managers from around the world who want to better serve their clients have begun to realize that they cannot rely solely on theories or mathematical models to explain individual investor and market behavior. As Meir Statman’s quote puts it, standard finance people are modeled as “rational,” whereas behavioral finance people are modeled as “normal.” This can be interpreted to mean that “normal” people may behave irrationally—but the reality is that almost no one (actually, I will go so far as to say absolutely no one) behaves perfectly rationally, and dealing with normal people is what this book is all about. We will delve into the topic of the irrational behaviors of markets at times; however, the focus of the book is on individual investor behavior.
Macroeconomics Beyond the NAIRU
Servaas Storm and C. W. M. Naastepad
Summary via publisher, Harvard University Press
Economists and the governments they advise have based their macroeconomic policies on the idea of a natural rate of unemployment. Government policy that pushes the rate below this point—about 6 percent—is apt to trigger an accelerating rate of inflation that is hard to reverse, or so the argument goes. In this book, Servaas Storm and C.W.M. Naastepad make a strong case that this concept is flawed: that a stable Non-Accelerating Inflation Rate of Unemployment (NAIRU), independent of macroeconomic policy, does not exist. Consequently, government decisions based on the NAIRU are not only misguided but have huge and avoidable social costs, namely, high unemployment and sustained inequality.