Looking for something interesting to read this summer? I have two suggestions.
These aren't laidback beach reads. But they just might save you from some personal financial disasters, and they'll definitely lead you to question your long-standing beliefs about the financial markets and the economy.
The first is
Wall Street Versus America: The Rampant Greed and Dishonesty That Imperil Your Investments.
Author Gary Weiss is an award-winning investigative reporter who wrote for
about investor issues ranging from micro-cap stock fraud to market manipulation. This book about today's market environment is frightening, funny and insightful -- and it would be a lot more enjoyable if it were fiction instead of hard-hitting truth.
(I actually waited a few months before recommending this book to see if Weiss would be sued by those he skewers; instead, Wall Street's reaction seems to be calculated to ignore his presence.)
I'm recommending this book as a must-read for every investor, even those whose closest relationship to the market is a monthly retirement-plan contribution. You'll be amazed by the "cold-calling" brokers promising big returns from penny stocks and the Internet "pump and dump" promotions.
What's really a revelation are Weiss' researched accusations against the Securities and Exchange Commission and other regulators, big-name Wall Street brokerage firms, specialists on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, and the hedge fund industry.
For example, Weiss extensively details the activities former SEC Chairman Arthur Levitt, who was acclaimed as "The Investor's Champion." Weiss claims that far from helping the individual, Levitt aided the accounting-and-consulting industry, while ignoring travesties of justice, such as the securities arbitration process that puts individual investors at a huge disadvantage.
Weiss points out that Levitt's successor, William Donaldson, was on the board of the NYSE when Levitt's SEC was censuring the exchange for its floor-trading activities. Then he notes that Donaldson had also been on the board of a small company whose stock was "touted" by paying analysts for creating research reports. Another example: The first head of the new SEC accounting-standards board, William Webster, had been an independent director of U.S. Technologies, "whose CEO eventually was bundled off to prison."
Weiss takes no prisoners and pulls no punches in his criticism of Wall Street insiders and the obfuscations and double-dealing that put individual investors at risk.
Despite all his accusations and scary stories, Weiss' doesn't seek more regulation by the government or exchanges. Instead, his book serves as a warning to individual investors that they must understand their rights.
Weiss suggests that these "abuses" will only be cured when investors make themselves heard by complaining to Congress, taking a stand when the SEC proposes new regulations and using the Internet to write about their experiences with the bad apples on Wall Street. The free enterprise system needs honest financial markets -- and Weiss' accusations can't be ignored.
If you still have enough energy to face economic "reality," pick up a copy of
reporter John Stossel's new book:
Myths, Lies, and Downright Stupidity: Get Out the Shovel -- Everything You Know is Wrong.
Are you willing to accept the possibility that gasoline prices are still a bargain? Well, if you knew that, adjusted for inflation, the price of a regular gallon of gas was $3.12 in March 1981, then maybe today's prices wouldn't be so shocking. That's the "truth vs. myth" approach Stossel takes.
And while there are many concerns out there that we are running out of oil, Stossel maintains that "there's enough petroleum energy in the Canadian tar sands to meet our needs for a hundred years" and that it becomes profitable to extract that oil when prices reach $50 a barrel.
Stossel is controversial whether he's taking on myths about class-action lawyers: ("Myth: They help consumers. Truth: Class-action lawyers get rich at the expense of consumers.") or about the outsourcing of jobs: ("Myth: Outsourcing takes jobs from Americans. Truth: It creates American jobs.")
Of special interest to
readers is a section on page 189 with Jim Cramer, who is refreshingly (as usual) open about the risks in following those who hype stocks on television.
No topic is out of bounds. Stossel takes on the media, the public school system, Congressional spending, child-rearing theories, women drivers, marriage, sex and religion. He asks us to reconsider what we "know" about the world we live in.
In the summer there's a tendency to let your mind take a vacation from considering the realities that affect our lives. This summer, instead of letting your mind get "beached" with a novel, take a few hours with a couple of books that will stimulate your thoughts, and make you laugh, as well as wince, at the world we live in. These two books are a worthwhile investment of your money and your time. And that's The Savage Truth.
TheStreet.com has a revenue-sharing relationship with Traders' Library and Amazon.com under which it receives a portion of the revenue from purchases by customers directed to the sites from TheStreet.com.
Terry Savage is an expert on personal finance and also appears as a commentator on national television on issues related to investing and the financial markets. Savage?s personal finance column in the Chicago Sun-Times is nationally syndicated, and she released her fourth book,
The Savage Number: How Much Money Do You Need?
in June 2005. Savage was the first woman trader on the Chicago Board Options Exchange and is a registered investment adviser for stocks and futures. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Michigan, Savage currently serves as a director of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange Corp. She also has served on the boards of McDonald?s and Pennzoil.