Reviews for Pound Foolish : Exposing the Dark Side of the Personal Finance Industry

Booklist Reviews 2012 December #1
"The personal finance and investment industry is a juggernaut, a part of both the ascendant financial services sector of our economy and the ever-booming self-help arena," states Olen, personal finance writer. Readers learn about Sylvia Porter, whom Olen describes as the "mother of the personal financial industrial complex." Porter, by the 1960s, had a daily column in which she explained stocks, bonds, and budgeting to millions of Americans. From that beginning mushroomed financial therapy (psychotherapy, life coaching, and financial planning), which originated in the 1970s and caught substantial media attention after the 2008 financial debacle. Explaining the shortcomings of financial therapy, the author cites bias toward individual demons, errors in comparing financial problems of the rich to those of average and poor Americans, and "a dysfunctional relationship with class, specifically the lack of class mobility in a country that prides itself on the American Dream." This thought-provoking book alerts us to important issues in today's postrecession economy and thus will enlighten many library patrons. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.

Choice Reviews 2013 September
The evolution of retirement plans from defined benefit to defined contribution and the development of IRA, IRA rollover, 401(k), and Keogh retirement plans has placed increased responsibility on individuals to make investment decisions. An industry has grown devoted to marketing personal financial services and advice. Much of this advice comes through the media, as illustrated by individuals such as Jim Cramer, Jane Bryant Quinn, and Suze Orman. In addition, there has been significant growth in the industry for financial planning and investing for individuals. Olen, a financial journalist, argues that much of the advice and financial planning is inaccurate, contradictory, and self-serving, and primarily benefits the providers through fees and commissions. One particularly interesting chapter considers the complimentary dinner offered to woo new clients by preying on the participants' ignorance and fear. Olen extends her argument to psychotherapy and life-planning professionals and even finds a relationship between the decline of the middle class, financial stress, and eating disorders. Olen offers no substantive solutions, but her expose should warn individuals contemplating investment strategies and the use of professional help. An index plus footnotes combined with bibliography increase the usefulness of the book. Summing Up: Recommended. Public, academic, and professional library collections. General Readers; Lower-division Undergraduates; Upper-division Undergraduates; Graduate Students; Researchers/Faculty; Professionals/Practitioners. H. Mayo The College of New Jersey Copyright 2013 American Library Association.

Kirkus Reviews 2012 November #2
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 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. Copyright Kirkus 2012 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Publishers Weekly Reviews 2012 October #3

The worth of the personal finance industry is inversely proportional to its ubiquity, according to blogger Olen in his breezy romp through recent financial history. According to Olen, given today's increasing income inequality and shaky employment prospects, a secure livelihood or retirement is a chimera. Olen's fast-paced narrative focuses on the rise of media celebrities and financial pundits who assure us: "You can do it!" What we can do is sign up for overhyped and overpriced investment seminars and services, promoted largely by the powerful motivator of fear. Such luminaries as Suze Orman, Jim Cramer, Robert Kiyosaki, and Peter Schiff may be household names, but their (often self-serving) advice did not prevent American retirement vehicles from losing trillion in 2007-2008. The proposition that media icons are also self-promoters will astonish no one, and Olen's frequent iteration of this point diminishes the value of her observations. Though her intention is to provide an exposé, not financial advice, her own observations are commonplace. One can enjoy her glimpses of the world of financial celebrity while remaining skeptical about the scope of her proposed remedy. Agent: Andrew Stuart, the Stuart Agency. (Jan.)

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