Well-Executed and Helpful in Multiple Ways
September 21, 2007
Peter W. Bernstein
I bouight this book partly on a whim and partly because a new non-profit a bunch of us have created, Earth Intelligence Network, is about to start fund-raising from the foundations. For the one page list of the top foundations and what they focus on, alone, I was fully satisfied.
However, and this was a very pleasant surprise, the book suggests that in the Forbes 400, average worth of those without a college degree is 5.96 billion, while those with a degree have a lesser averaage wealth of 3.14 billion. I have an extremely bright and talented who scorns most structured classes, and I am going to give him this book as a way of considering his options. I am certainly coming to believe that online education and “free universities” need to explode, and structured classroom learning reduced at the same time that all learning should become open books team learning, not competitive rote learning. This book actually reinforces that view.
The book opens by emphasizing that a great deal of the wealth today came about because of the equivalent of the Oklahoma land rush, the combination of President Reagan cutting taxes, the wireless “landgrab”, and smart people, generally already rich, borrowing money to buy under-valued assets (in contrast to the subprime mess we are in now).
The book examines factors in success, and after luck or intuition it lists drive, a willingness to take risks, self-confidence, and even obessive attention to detail. A lack of ethics and a willingness to commit crimes against stockholders, employees, and the government are featured in perhaps 10% of the Forbes 400 caught and convicted, and I would speculate another 30% in gray areas. The book cites one person's view that a major recession is coming, and the public's perception of the super-rich as having gotten there by greed and abuse, a factor to be reckoned with in the near future.
Part I focuses on individuals, and we learn that three families, Buffet, Gates, and Walton, hold 14.5% of the total wealth represented in the Forbes 400 list.
Part II focuses on specific economic sectors where fortunes have been made.
Part III was the most interesting part for me, it focuses on how the super-rich spend their money. Heir and trophy wives, how to stalk and marry a billionaire, yachts (over 200 feeet long, the top ones being over 400 feet), helicopters at eleven million, art, competing for the America's cup, a multi-year cost, all quite interesting.
Best of all is the chapter on Giving It Away, and the table on page 278, listing 36 top givers and their interests.
Bottom line: I do not consider this a voyeur type of book, but rather a book that is enjoyable to read on a Sunday morning, and one that could spark useful reflections in both adults, and seniors in high school, or those in college. I regard this as a very fine gift, and will be passing my copy on to my oldest son.
Ten other recommendations (other than my own books):
Where Have All the Leaders Gone?
The Politics of Fortune: A New Agenda For Business Leaders
State of the World 2007: Our Urban Future (State of the World)
Within Our Means
The Money Culture
The Working Poor: Invisible in America
Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America
War on the Middle Class: How the Government, Big Business, and Special Interest Groups Are Waging War on the American Dream and How to Fight Back
The Global Class War: How America's Bipartisan Elite Lost Our Future – and What It Will Take to Win It Back
Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming