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The Economics of Integrity: From Dairy Farmers to Toyota, How Wealth Is Built on Trust and What That Means for Our Future Hardcover – February 23, 2010

4.4 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

We rarely stop to think how many of the things we rely on everyday depend on a system of trust. We don’t give a second thought to whether the milk we serve our children is safe to drink, but its safety depends on every one of the 15 or more people who handle and process it before it reaches our table. We depend on the trust of others not just to keep our food safe but also to keep our bank and other financial records safe. Bernasek examines a number of industries in which trust, integrity, and brand-reputation are integral to economic success, and also discusses how and why that integrity broke down in the financial crisis of 2008. She shows how companies like Toyota and L.L. Bean have built customer loyalty by going above and beyond what most corporations do to stand behind their products and demonstrates how the financial industry can advance its reputation by learning from these models. --David Siegfried

Review

“Bernasek’s advocacy of a smart, positive spirit is a worthwhile reminder of the perils of a self-defeating negativism in an era of multiple national crises. In crisp, lucid language she lays out her positive approach.” (Boston Globe)

“Bernasek delivers an engaging and enlightening journey into the roots of integrity, building a convincing case for why it is the bedrock of our economy. I learned a lot reading this book.” (Rom Brafman, bestselling author of Sway)

“When our businesses and markets operate with integrity we are able to create enormous wealth. Anyone interested in understanding what makes our economy work must have this on their bookshelf.” (Mark Zandi, Chief Economist, Moody's)

“In this fascinating little book, Anna Bernasek shows what delivering milk has in common with financial reform. The common thread? Both need mechanisms to ensure integrity. Her insights will stick with you long after you put the book down.” (Alan Blinder, Economist and co-director of Princeton’s Center for Economic Policy Studies, former Economic Advisor to Bill Clinton)

“In an era of structured finance, nano-technology, and complex business models, Anna Bernasek’s timely, valuable, and highly readable book reminds us that the economy runs on something much more simple: trust.” (Dan Gross, Senior Editor, Newsweek and author of Dumb Money: How Our Greatest Financial Minds Bankrupted the Nation)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: HarperBusiness (February 23, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061774138
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061774133
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #724,007 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By John Gibbs on February 24, 2010
Format: Hardcover
We hear so much about people who become wealthy as a result of selfish conduct, sharp business practices or outright fraud that is seems astonishing for someone to claim that wealth is in fact built on integrity. But that is what Anna Bernasek does in this book. She illustrates in a clear and compelling way how great a role trust and trustworthiness play in everyday transactions in a developed country.

Every time you buy milk at the supermarket, you are placing an enormous amount of trust in a large number of people who are complete strangers, including farmers, transporters, processors and retailers. If any one of these decided to cut some corners for short-term financial gain, thousands of people could suffer, as indeed occurred in China not so long ago when milk supplies became contaminated. It would be impossible for most people to purchase food at reasonable prices if the suppliers did not voluntarily act in a trustworthy manner. The author goes on to describe how integrity is a key factor in many other aspects of business including our financial systems.

Although the author does not mention this, she has identified a key reason why only some countries are wealthy, whereas most remain poor. In Western countries, transaction costs are very low because you can take it for granted that the products you buy will work properly, be safe to use, and carry the guarantee of the manufacturer named on the label. In many poorer countries, transaction costs are very high because you have to test things for yourself, and trade mark forgery is prevalent.
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Format: Hardcover
As Anna Bernasek suggests in the Introduction, "If we ignore the important ways that people cooperate to create wealth, we miss the most valuable source of wealth creation imaginable. Recognizing the true value of relationships, we can build stronger relationships and create and share greater wealth. It's a powerful way to reinvigorate the economy." With regard to this specific book, she explains, it is a tool kit "for creating integrity anywhere in the economy. When policy makers are thinking about changing health care, reforming the tax system, or improving the financial system, they can use these tools to systematically build value. I encourage readers to see that integrity unlocks enormous opportunities for wealth creation that we may not yet imagine."

Throughout her lively and eloquent narrative, Bernasek examines a number of situations in which everyone involved benefits because they do what is right and do it right, who abide by rules that "set people free to do the right thing, rather than holding people back," rules and values that encourage activity and create more wealth. What is required to deliver a gallon of milk offers a case in point. Here's the supply chain: farmer (serviced by feed supplier, co-up, vet, hoof trimmer, and nutritionist) > milk hauler > second driver > milk plant > distributor > store > consumer. Prior to point of sale, everyone involved must be both worthy of trust (i.e. honest, following the rules, being careful on the job) and trusted by everyone else. These relationships of trust throughout the process require an integrity that produces value for everyone involved.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Interesting discussion of the ethics of business and delivering services or producing goods which are healthy and do no harm. The story about making milk a safe and reliable product is fascinating in itself. A good argument for honesty, science and intelligent regulation in the market place.
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The connection of economic growth with integrity seems pretty common sense, but Bernasek really illustrates well how acting with integrity leads to relationships of trust which leads to long term transactions, ergo sustainable economic growth.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a limited scope essay rather than a book. Government involvement is ignored. There's no economics here and not much insight into ethical principles. Bernasek gives a number of examples of integrity based businesses. She cites the quality control aspect of Toyota, the return policy initiated by L.L. Bean and the simple intuitive trading platform of eBay. L.L. Bean parlayed a return policy into a top brand recognition. Bernasek cites openness as a criteria for integrity. She makes a case for integrity being a basis for profitability. Unfortunately, it's not convincing.

There are no counter examples. In a somewhat naive analysis Bernasek ignores the use of eBay for selfish and illegal purposes. She is apparently unaware of the trend for integrity based business to draw cheaters and thieves, as with Internet and ATM abuses. Enron and Bernie Madoff once ran their businesses with integrity.

This is a nice, but somewhat naive, little essay on integrity and quality in business and banking, nothing more.
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