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Book Review of: Managed By The Markets

How Finance Re-Shaped America

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Review of Managed by the Markets, by Gerald F. Davis (Hardcover, 2009)

(You can print this review in landscape mode, if you want a hardcopy)

Reviewer: Mark Lamendola, author of over 6,000 articles.

This book was interesting, but it showed a lack of rigor and the amount of repetition was fairly significant. I think the author had a collection of articles or lectures, and decided to aggregate them into a book format rather than sit down and outline a book and then draw from authoritative sources to write it. That may not be the case, but that's how it reads. And you'll see some of his other works listed in the reference section.

The author's political views are hard to miss. The whole point of the book seems to be to propagate those views under the guise of "analysis" and nonfiction. This book takes a new approach by toning down the propaganda to make it appear more like the result of reasoned analysis. But, it's still propaganda.

Why the soft-pedaling? Perhaps the publisher is aware of the reader backlash that is killing the newspapers--people just don't want to have their intelligence insulted. So instead of the normal "in your face" passing off of statist/leftist religion as fact, the author tries to soft-pedal it. But the bias still shows and this detracts from the book.

I'm not against expressing one's views in a book that's supposed to be nonfiction. But certain requirements need to be met. For example, the author needs to make it clear when doing this and also present the other side. Such views need to be supported with some kind of evidence or they shouldn't be presented in the first place. In this book, there's not much of a connection between Davis' attempts to be subtle with these views and the facts presented in the book. One can get from Point A to Point B only by leaps of logic.

On the one hand, Davis did a good job of exposing the fact that our statist/leftist system is crumbling. On the other hand, his solution to this is to suggest that if you pick up the Demopublican turd by one end rather than the other, you won't get any stink on your fingers. I have it on good authority that turds are uniformly stinky, but many people adhere to the "magnet theory" as if there's a north and south pole on these things and one end is somehow rose-scented. That particular delusion is why things are getting worse instead of better.

Worse? Yes, I'd say going from a staggering $5 trillion debt under Clinton to a staggering $11 trillion debt under Bush to the staggering additions of debt we've gotten under Obama isn't improving our debt picture. If you disagree, try maxing out all of your credit cards and then not making even the minimum payments. See if your credit card issuer considers that an improvement.

Yet, Davis completely ignores this in favor of suggesting that the Republican wing of the Demopublican Party messed up a wonderful system and now Obama must deal with the damage. He fails to mention that Obama got an F-rating from every citizen watchdog group during his brief stint as a US Senator, compiling one of the worst records in the history of the Senate.

This misconception of a two-party, one is good the other is atrocious system is propagated by the same mudstream media that stuck us with a new president whose answer to our staggering $11 trillion debt was to promptly go out and make it significantly worse. It's not "hope and change" when you do more of the same. It's stupidity. No, I take that back. Einstein said doing more of what's not working was insanity. I defer to him in this matter. We do not have a stupid president. We have an insane one. That's not a political observation, but a financial one.

That is not to say that I think Bush's more than doubling of our debt was sane. It wasn't. The point I am making here is that insanity is what it is, and it doesn't change simply because the person doing it belongs to a different wing of the same corrupt political party as someone else doing something insane. If you throw gasoline on a burning home, you're making the fire hotter regardless of what your rhetoric is.

Davis provides a fairly detailed history of corporations in America, dividing that history into two eras.

In the first era, the corporations ran businesses to benefit the managers. This was the era of "managerialism." In this era, the "company man" had a secure job with advancement. Davis seems to romanticize this era, and mourn its passing. And why did it pass?

You may recall a 1977 summer blockbuster movie called "Star Wars." The villain in that episode was Darth Vader. From Davis' text, we can conclude that Ronald Reagan studied that movie intensely and then patterned his presidency after Vader. Thanks to Reagan, the Garden of Eden ended for corporate America, and managers were no longer in charge. Thanks to Reagan, corporations began serving stockholders rather than managers. And that's where unemployment, scandal, and corporate incompetence came from. At least, that's how it read to me. And I don't agree with that view.

What "Darth Reagan" apparently introduced was a concept called "Financialization." From that flowed a series of sea changes in regulation, ethics, and possibly the human genome. Indeed, Davis says we now view our family members as financial assets. Maybe some people do. I don't know anyone like that, myself.

Davis vainly tries to support this "financialization era" idea, but no amount of lipstick on that particular pig is going to persuade anyone outside the statist/leftist religion. The subtitle, "How Refinance Re-Shaped America" is appropriate to the text, but the author just doesn't make the case that refinancing did any such thing. Davis is preaching to a particular choir, rather than producing a solid work of nonfiction.

To see what has reshaped America over the past few decades, we merely need to look at the atrocious spending record of the U.S. Congress (the National Taxpayers Union has the data, you can go to to see for yourself) and track the staggering national debt that has ensued. When the economy has to carry this kind of debt, a bad outcome is the only possible outcome. Period.

If we look at the longer time span Davis uses, there are several dates that immediately come to mind. For example, in 1863 we got stuck with a national bank. This arrangement has never worked well, which is why Andrew Jackson killed the national bank in his Presidency. In 1913, we got stuck with a series of "how deranged can they get?" laws that set the stage for exactly the kinds of problems Davis describes. None of this has anything to do with Reagan coming to power and somehow destroying the capitalist system.

If you cut out the repetition and the "analysis" part of the book, what remains is some solid research. And that part's worth reading. But that part doesn't lead to any particular conclusions.

This book consists of seven chapters. It has 255 pages of text. It also has extensive notes and extensive references. A close look at these references reveals that the author has a proclivity to choose materials that support his existing worldview, rather than draw from a balanced research to form that view. Many of his sources are notorious for not getting their facts right.

A case in point is the New York Times, which appears frequently among the referenced sources. That publication is the "morning scripture" of people who desperately want to believe that more of the same failed government is somehow better and so need a daily dose of propaganda to help them overcome the facts that are all around them. People who want to be disinformed read it. People who want to be informed take no part in its intellectual toxicity. Davis' heavy reliance on the NYT shows throughout the book.

I think this book is valuable if the reader uses a highlighter and keeps a notebook while reading. Afterwards, you can go back and research the points that struck you as particularly interesting. For me, this book contains plenty of such points. But be careful not to swallow the ideas that the author just doesn't support with fact or logic.



About these reviews

You may be wondering why the reviews here are any different from the hundreds of "reviews" posted online. Notice the quotation marks?

I've been reviewing books for sites like Amazon for many years now, and it dismays me that Amazon found it necessary to post a minimum word count for reviews. It further dismays me that it's only 20 words. If that's all you have to say about a book, why bother?

And why waste everyone else's time with such drivel? As a reader of such reviews, I feel like I am being told that I do not matter. The flippancy of people who write these terse "reviews" is insulting to the authors also, I would suspect.

This sound bite blathering taking the place of any actual communication is increasingly a problem in our mindless, blog-posting Webosphere. Sadly, Google rewards such pointlessness as "content" so we just get more if this inanity.

My reviews, contrary to current (non) standards, actually tell you about the book. I always got an "A" on a book review I did as a kid (that's how I remember it anyhow, and it's my story so I'm sticking to it). A book review contains certain elements and has a logical structure. It informs the reader about the book.

A book review may also tell the reader whether the reviewer liked it, but revealing a reviewer's personal taste is not necessary for an informative book review.

About your reviewer

  • Books are a passion of mine. I read dozens of them each year, plus I listen to audio books.
  • Most of my "reading diet" consists of nonfiction. I think life is too short to use your limited reading time on material that has little or no substance. That leads into my next point...
  • In 1990, I stopped watching television. I have not missed it. At all.
  • I was first published as a preteen. I wrote an essay, and my teacher submitted it to the local paper.
  • For six years, I worked as an editor for a trade publication. I left that job in 2002, and still do freelance editing and authoring for that publication (and for other publications).
  • No book has emerged from my mind onto the best-seller list. So maybe I'm presumptuous in judging the work of others. Then again, I do more describing than judging in my reviews. And I have so many articles now published that I stopped counting them at 6,000. When did I stop? Probably 20,000 articles ago! (It's been a while).
  • I have an engineering degree and an MBA, among other "quant" degrees. That helps explain my methodical approach toward reviews.
  • You probably don't know anybody who has made a perfect or near perfect score on a test of Standard Written English. I have. So, a credential for whatever it's worth.

About reading style

No, I do not "speed read" through these. That said, I do read at a fast rate. But, in contrast to speed reading, I read everything when I read a book for review.

Speed reading is a specialized type of reading that requires skipping text as you go. Using this technique, I've been able to consistently "max out" a speed reading machine at 2080 words per minute with 80% comprehension. This method is great if you are out to show how fast you can read. But I didn't use it in graduate school and I don't use it now. I think it takes the joy out of reading, and that pleasure is a big part of why I read.

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