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VINE VOICEon October 7, 2007
Mobs, Messiahs, and Markets provides insights that run counter to the propaganda spewed by the mainstream media. Thought-provoking and myth-challenging, it will delight those who value liberty. People who believe the government is "here to help you" or that the tooth fairy really does leave coins under your pillow won't like Mobs, Messiahs, and Markets. That's their problem.

Mobs, Messiahs, and Markets looks at how and why people do stupid things en masse. Understanding how mass manipulation works can help you avoid trotting off the cliff in a herd of lemmings, so this stuff is good to know. One of the tools of mass manipulation is the really big lie. Quite adroitly, Mobs, Messiahs, and Markets looks at specific lies and gives them a sound thrashing.

An example of a really big lie
Let's look at example of one such lie: Alan Greenspan did a great job as Chairman of the Federal Reserve. Anyone who has paid the slightest bit of attention to the economic data knows that's false. But prior to reading Mobs, Messiahs, and Markets, I thought he was just incompetent. The truth is far worse. The truth is that Alan Greenspan's collusion with the Clintons amounted to a theft of half our assets and half our income. He accomplished this theft by undermining our currency so much that the dollar lost half its value during his "reign of reverse gain."

Look around. Now, imagine someone barges into your home and burns half of everything you own--including half your home. While the flames are still roaring, they access your investments, retirement accounts, and any other liquid or not so liquid assets of yours and take half of those, as well. Just as the fire trucks roll up, your boss calls and tells you that from now on your wages will be 50% less--after taxes. How happy would you be about now? I have just described exactly what Greenspan did to middle class Americans and the poor.

Doesn't this make you wonder why he isn't in prison? If you steal only $1,000 and use the money to feed your kids, that's grand larceny. You go to jail, and the newspapers call you a felon. But if you steal trillions of dollars (not just billions) to abet the shenanigans of a few unscrupulous people who have wheedled their way into political office, you get an excellent pension and the newspapers call you The Maestro. Go figure. By the way, the threshold for grand larceny was $500 before Greenspan took over.

Witty
I personally don't enjoy the witty ripostes that permeate Mobs, Messiahs, and Markets, but the barbs are creative and many people will be amused. To me, the reality is farcical enough already.

What makes Mobs, Messiahs, and Markets valuable to me is how the authors use facts and logic to debunk frauds and delusions in a definitive manner. Mobs, Messiahs, and Markets should be required reading for anyone wishing to participate as a citizen. I also highly recommend it for anyone who has bills to pay.

Gold and central banking
As I read Mobs, Messiahs, and Markets, I kept nodding in approval. Yes, these folks have done their research. Then, I got to the last chapter and things suddenly changed. The last chapter promotes the tired old "gold as a defense" notion. Accepting that particular notion as reasonable requires suspending several laws of economics, commerce, and finance. And it requires ignoring a large body of long-established basic facts. While the rest of the book was insightful, this chapter bombed in the "fundamental understanding" department. If you are stuck on the gold notion, of course, you can cherry pick what you want to "prove" you are right.

Now that I've fired a shot at an otherwise excellent book, here's my explanation. A currency, to facilitate trade, cannot be fixed to a commodity. A currency must be flexible, because markets are always in flux. Fix our currency to gold, and our markets will misfire. Markets are complex interactions among multiple parties simultaneously, rather than one-for-one trades of my pig and your cow.

The "gold mentality" assumes a physical production model and the trading of physical objects whose value is clearly known among parties who know each other. But those assumptions don't fit our actual markets, which is why everyone went off the gold standard. The reality is that most of trade is for non-physical assets (an example being intellectual property), and that alone tells you a great deal if you think about it.

This is a book review and not a white paper, so I won't go into detail on the other problems with this model. But let's look at this one a bit closer. As you look at the variety of products that people pay for, you can see a specific order in which value is added and by which profits are made. At the bottom are raw materials, in the middle somewhere you have manufactured goods. The highest level of value, and thus of economic gain, is intellectual rather than physical. That's why, for example, jobs that use your brain pay far more than jobs that use your back. It's why, for example, an engineering firm like Black and Veatch always has job openings and why, for example, widget factories in China are laying people off. It's why, for example, Bill Gates is the richest man in the world, but not a single factory machine operator is even on the list of the top 100 million richest people. Do we really need to "debate" this?

So, why do the authors go down this path? The "gold solution" is a proposed cure for the debasement of our currency. That debasement comes in the form of inflation caused by our central bank, which can create money from thin air because we have a fiat money supply (the money has no intrinsic value). The authors compare central banking to central planning of manufacturing and agriculture (Soviet style), but that's a false comparison because a central bank isn't making anything. At least, it's not supposed to and therein lies the problem with our central bank.

The mission of a central bank should be to ensure the currency remains stable. To do that, it needs to expand and contract the money supply to maintain the value of the currency. Central bankers in the USA believe their mission is to serve politicians, not to be guardians of the currency. And that's the problem. The book gives an excellent explanation of how this political serving is done and the huge damage it does to individuals and the nation as a whole. But instead of connecting the dots at the end, the authors jump into an alternate universe.

Creating money out of thin air can't be helped. The Federal Reserve isn't the only entity that creates money. We all do it, all the time. When a business extends trade credit, guess what? It creates money. Ditto when you write a check, use a credit card, write an IOU, take out a loan, or buy tickets to the show. All of these activities contribute to our money supply, even if only in a transitory way. They are fluid, which is why they work. You could not tie them to a gold standard, even if you wanted to.

Tying a currency to any commodity is exactly the kind of central planning that the authors rail against. Instead of letting the market decide the value of the currency (with a central bank to guard against inflation), some central authority pegs it to an industrial metal (which doesn't guard against inflation, as history proves). Then the supply of that metal fluctuates to one rhythm while the general market fluctuates to another. This creates many wealth-inhibiting problems, which is why we don't do it anymore. If you want commerce (as we know it) to grind to a halt, put us on the gold standard. Watch the bread lines form, shortly thereafter.

Another tired and irrelevant cliché the authors use is "printing money." The printing of dollars (Federal Reserve Notes) contributes a statistically insignificant amount to the total money supply. If the FR decided to triple the number of FRNs printed over the next six months, I doubt we'd notice any difference in our economy. People and businesses rely primarily on electronic money, not paper notes, today. Look at your own finances as an example, and you'll see how little you actually use paper notes. Does anyone pay a mortgage with paper notes these days? Make a list....

When we create money out of thin air, the Federal Reserve should contract the money supply to keep the currency stable. What happens instead is the FR also creates money out of thin air--doing the exact opposite of what it is morally compelled to do.

Thus, the behavior of the Federal Reserve is like that of someone who throws a drowning man an anchor. Greenspan, instead of throwing us life preservers, tossed so many anchors at us that our currency lost half its value. Nice guy, huh? Buying gold won't stop that, and it won't protect you from that. The only peaceful means of getting that kind of theft stopped is to vote the bums out of office. Voting for anyone other than a Democrat or Republican would help, but if you vote only for candidates who speak of the problems this book exposes (yes, they are out there, and Ron Paul is one of them), you will be doing the most good.

The rest of the book
Now that I've addressed (at length) the part of the book that should be revised (the misinformation about gold), I have to say the rest of the book is spot on. It is no exaggeration to refer to our public policies as spectacles. Or worse. The way the authors address these spectacles is great, and they provide a badly-needed counterbalance to the lies and lunacy that people are inundated with.

The book has a fairly high page count, but it's a quick read. It's divided into six Parts.

Part One is titled "A Critique of Impure Reason" and contains three chapters. This presents a theme the book revisits throughout, and that is of the person who is determined to make the world a "better" place by making it conform to his/her delusions. Hitler was such a person--you can guess how this goes. The book takes shots at several incompetent and/or downright crazy people who have led one nation or another into an expensive debacle or even complete ruin. Some of the blunders were monumentally stupid. And as we see, monumental stupidity is a recurring theme in government.

The first chapter of Part Two talks about the witch hunts that we look back on as examples of hysteria today as in, "we would never do that." Don't be so sure. The second chapter talks about how the media inflame war rhetoric and create news rather than report it. That's one reason I don't read newspapers. I don't watch television, either, because I have a machine to wash my clothes and another to wash my dishes--I don't need one to wash my brain.

Part Three talks about the futility of war. I like the example of how France loses wars yet still is sovereign France. Winning or losing doesn't seem to matter. Germany lost two world wars, but what language do Germans speak today? Hint: Sie sprechen Deutsch?

Was any war ever worth its high cost? The authors ask why there was an American revolution. The people of India, Australia, and New Zealand were able to obtain their independence from the British Empire without firing a shot. If that doesn't make you pause....

A particularly enjoyable area in The Flattening the Globe (title of Part Four), is where the authors take on Thomas L. Friedman. This is the guy who wrote the whacked out "The Lexus and the Olive Tree" and actually got it published as nonfiction. Having read relatively smarter material on bathroom walls, I never made it past the first 20% or so of the book. I wonder to this day whether Friedman had suffered from repeated blows to the skull, or deliberately wrote that ode to stupidity as a practical joke. Bonner and Rajiva wrote counterarguments to Friedman's absurd assertions, to illustrate some interesting points. The explanations were quite entertaining, and in themselves justify buying the book.

To understand what a Bubble King is, read Part Five. Here's where we get a good expose on the lunacy of price runups, speculation posing as investing, national fiscal policy (such that it is), and other "suckers apply here" scams that snag millions of people who eagerly line up to be fleeced. The real kicker is Chapter 15, "The Mother of the Mother of All Bubbles." Here, we get an analysis of the most important financial topic relevant to today. Understanding it will prevent you from becoming just another donor to the ultra-wealthy. That's probably why you don't get to read about it in the mainstream media. Guess who owns the mainstream media?

The last chapter lurches suddenly into lala-land, as noted earlier. That's where the book is supposed to tell you how to survive the public spectacle in politics and finance, but doesn't. However, there's still the rest of the book to enjoy and learn from. The authors poke right through the veneer of deception that seems to cover most everything that's financial or political these days. And just being able to see the reality will help you avoid following a herd of lemmings over a cliff.

Reviewer's view on elections
One reason we get things like Alan Greenspan's massive theft is we don't have an elected government in this country. Hold on, now, and let me explain. We can look back on the "elections" of the past half century and see that no matter which side of the Demopublican Party is "elected," we still get insane levels of federal spending. And they fund that irresponsible behavior through a combination of currency devaluation (what Greenspan did to us), stealing from children not yet born, and levying a hidden national sales tax by jacking up the cost of capital through staggering levels of debt accumulation.

How do they get away with this? Through a clever combination of disinformation, red herrings, and blatant lies. They also use a clever "good cop, bad cop" routine to pretend before the voters that the "election" is a choice between the Democrats and the Republicans. Or, more accurately, it's a "good crook, bad crook" routine--about like choosing between the Crips and the Bloods. The outcome is as pre-arranged and orchestrated as an All Star Wrestling match.

The common wisdom (or lack thereof) is that unless you vote for Democrat or Republican, your vote doesn't count. This defies logic, because voting either way means you simply rubber stamp a decision made by some Demopublicans behind closed doors. In other words, you throw away your vote out of fear it might not count unless you do.

Meanwhile, the currency devaluation helps these thieves keep right on fooling most of the people all of the time. Read Mobs, Messiahs, and Markets. Then, decide if you still want to give these criminals your personal seal of approval at the polls.

Mobs, Messiahs, and Markets isn't about elections, but the information in it should help you decide what to do at election time. It should also help you decide what to do about choices in investing, asset protection, and other aspects of financial management. Just don't go out and buy gold out of fear the world is ending--whether you have it or not won't make any real difference, and there are far better strategies available.
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VINE VOICEon September 3, 2007
At first glance, this book appears to be the antithesis of a favorite of mine, The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki-- the authors Bonner and Rajiva criticize the efficacy of mob rule and the intelligence of the group. Further in the read, however, it is clear that "Mobs" is not the antithesis of "Crowds", and actually agrees with one of the central principles of Surowieckis book, but has just a fraction of the scope, despite the great read that it is.

After bashing group-think, as a true Socratic would, in a methodical and convincing manner, the authors turn their focus on another popular American pastime of late--Bush bashing, then go on to describe the impending collapse of the entire world economy. It's evident that mobs are irrational and tend to do some regretful things (like killing a famous Athenian philosopher) and Bonner and Rajiva have no quarrel here, but to say that the negatives of group-think refutes "The Wisdom of the Crowds" is like saying Socrates wasn't wise because he asked more questions than gave answers. As Surowiecki explains, crowds are only more intelligent than their constituent parts if they are made up of independent thinkers, not mobs. Bonner and Rajiva would surely agree to that and do to an extent in their book.

After a bit of Bush bashing and anti-Iraq-war sentiment, the authors deflate the Che Guevera revolution succinctly. But George and Che are the minions of a larger-picture chess match, in which there is a larger antagonist--Alan Greenspan. The authors make the case against Greenspan's lowering of interest rates to try to stave off a recession as the creation of the "Mother of the Mother of All Bubbles". Among persistent insinuations of associations between Greenspan and Enron, charts revealing the current financial situation, and a great history of the last twenty years of world economics, Bonner and Rajiva make the case that the world economy is an enormous bubble about to burst. Unfortunately, they don't show how to capitalize on the current economic system.

"Mobs" is an entertaining read but the constant ridiculing can get fairly uncomfortable (the authors calls Friedman's The World Is Flat "suitable only for children...to sit on or club each other over the head with"). Though "Mobs" usually follows a harsh critique with great points, the authors should hope their critics aren't nearly as unjust as they.

It is an insightful, intriguing, and entertaining book, despite the flaws. Without the motif of antagonism, it would be a great book. As it is, however, "Mobs" is a great complement to the above mentioned books, but one would suffer if this was the only book he read.
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on October 16, 2007
"Mobs, Messiahs, and Markets" by William Bonner and Lila Rajiva is a fascinating work which considers how people think and behave, privately and collectively, and the effects these different modes have within the public sphere. I haven't quite decided which specific literary genre this book falls into; maybe that is inconsequential anyway. There's a lot of history, much economics and politics and, well, almost every other recognized social science comes into play. The main theme, however, seems to be well illustrated in the subtitle of the book: "Surviving the Public Spectacle in Finance and Politics." This is not, therefore, merely an academic inquiry into group dynamics, but a very practical one as well.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have received Bill Bonner's "Daily Reckoning" financial newsletter via e-mail for a number of years, so I am somewhat familiar with his writing style and his viewpoint regarding matters economic and political. This is the first time, however, that I have read a book which he has authored or co-authored. Fortunately for the casual reader, this book is not the least bit "dry" or dull, as all too many books dealing with this or similar topics seem to be. In fact, there are many times in this work where the authors relate or allude to something that is downright hilarious. Be that as it may, this is a serious look at an important phenomenon in the human condition.

Mob psychology is one of the most interesting topics to study and reflect upon. Even a brief inquiry into the dynamics of crowd behavior raises all sorts of interesting questions. And then there is the notion of so-called "groupthink," a term used by Bonner and Rajiva in their book. I particularly liked their colorful way of describing that notion. Referring to it as the "shifting bog of groupthink," it is "not only completely different from private thinking but is an illusion, piled on top of a fraud, stacked on a foundation of humbug, built in the mud of misconception with the building blocks of lunacy." Couldn't have said it better myself! As for me, someone who is just as fearful of a "mobocracy" as of an "autocracy, that description is more than satisfying.

Many insights into crowd psychology are provided during this journey into human thinking and behavior and the historical range of illustrative topics is broad and sweeping. Why do so many otherwise intelligent people jettison their common sense and rational thinking in order to just "follow the crowd"? Why do so-called "do-gooders" go so bad? Why do "witch hunts" occur so often, even in sophisticated and intellectually advanced societies? How do Hitlers and Stalins come to captivate the attention of and accumulate power over otherwise intelligent and rational human beings? How does "groupthink" affect those involved in the financial markets, such as investors and advisors? Moreover, how can one avoid getting caught up in the frenzy of mob psychology, whether in economics or politics or anywhere else?

This book is both an interesting historical adventure and a very practical primer, especially for those involved in the financial markets. As it says inside the dust-cover: "The authors' cautionary tale of the current bubble economy warns that the gush of credit let loose by Alan Greenspan is fraught with perils for the unwary -- but their thoughtful and always entertaining approach also offers some sound investing principles for avoiding the pitfalls of the public spectacle, thinking for yourself, and protecting your money, your sanity, and your soul." Who could ask for more than that?
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A quote you'll often read is that history is written by the victors. Many people think that observation is limited to histories of battles and wars. But the same can be said of those who win political and appointed offices, CEOs, and write the daily stories in the press. These victors are almost always impressed with themselves and what just happened while failing to cast any perspective on what might actually be going on. Others hear the same story so often they don't even bother to notice that contrary evidence to the common delusion is all around them. William Bonner and Lila Rajiva are deeply skeptical of the consensus and provide lots of evidence to the contrary. The book's main weakness is that sometimes their evidence is too superficial to capture the underlying causes of what they describe.

What are some of the key lessons the book develops?

1. World improvers using force and funds can do a lot more harm than good. Was invading Iraq to eliminate weapons of mass destruction really necessary?

2. People would rather treat an issue through a story someone tells them rather than think matters through. A failed leader may tell an untrue success story so often that everyone comes to remember only the story, rather than what the leader accomplished.

3. People can easily become fearful of something that's not happening. Witness the political success in the U.S. of "fighting terrorism" when there have been no significant domestic events of this since early 2002.

4. The authors argue that democracy isn't so good for economic growth. I found this analysis incomplete because it failed to separate out the effects of lender-mandated "reforms" by the World Bank and IMF that created depressions in most new democracies in the last few decades.

5. Out of hysteria bred by publicity can come actual harm to the accused. The original witch hunts and the more recent convictions of child care workers based on the "aided" testimony of five-year-olds are cited as evidence.

6. Wars are always associated with false reports of atrocities that no one bothers to question.

7. Many countries enter wars when they would have accomplished more by not doing so (such as the United States in World War I).

8. Most "heroes" were actually bumblers. Che Guevara and Alan Greenspan are cited as examples of the left and right.

9. Booms are rarely created by top-down efforts of governments. True improvements come from the efforts of people working independent of governments.

10. Investors discount unlikely events, underestimating their potential occurrence and impact.

11. The U.S. Federal Reserve has been sponsoring one bubble after another around the world by inflating the U.S. currency in circulation in conjunction with the Japanese Central Bank by offering bargain basement interest rates to borrowers who want to buy into the bubbles.

12. Almost all markets are over priced right now, but investors are unconcerned as they march to the edge of the cliff.

13. To make money in investments, don't do what others do . . . and don't look for problems where there are none.

14. If you decide to sit out the housing and financial markets, gold is a safer bet than money market funds or short-term bonds.

15. Use a historical perspective over a couple of cycles of up and down to see where the markets are at any given time.

Some will find the book maddening because it's oblique in making its points. Others will be charmed by the stories and thought-provoking historical examples.

I suggest that this not be your first book on manias. Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds by Charles MacKay would be a better choice to begin. Without that context for this book, you'll find yourself gobbling caviar without knowing what it is . . . and you may not like the taste without preparation.

Question all popular beliefs and political statements!
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on September 26, 2007
Here's a book that's off-beat, thought-provoking, and calculated to stand conventional thinking on its head. The question, "Why do crowds behave the way they do?" may have been tackled many times before, but probably never quite this way, connecting child sex abuse scandals, the Che legend, animal experiments, and adjustable rate mortgages. For the authors, mob- thinking is hard-wired into the brain, but it also takes "do-gooders" and slogans to keep it going. There's a lot of "irrational exuberance" in this book, some of it cheerfully offensive. But the conclusions are surprisingly independent. One more thing: the book lays out the history of US financial markets in the last few decades excellently and gives readers some great rules of thumb for investing. Highly recommended.
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on February 3, 2008
I bought with book expecting to get a solid counterpoint to books like The Wisdom of Crowds that give a positive spin to mass behavior and was terribly disappointed. The first and biggest objection is that the authors' thoughts are sloppy and poorly presented. The book's organization is scattershot and they often assume they are making a point that they haven't actually argued in any real sense.

As I read this book I felt like I was sitting on the train listening to a drunk commuter talk about a book that he read and only half-understood. It was like the authors were telling you about a book that they wanted to write, but hadn't researched or fully thought out yet. I think the authors must have been inspired to write a book about mass behavior and then quickly jotted down notes and random thoughts about a wide range of subjects without having anyone look it over to see if it made any sense.

It is largely incoherent and the foundations of the arguments are weak and often non-existent. I blame the editor for this, but I don't know how much they had to work with in the first place.

The fundamental argument seems to be that mass movements of any kind are stupid. They use easily refuted examples and even choose some examples that seem to refute their very premise.

Their argument goes something like this- George w. Bush was elected. See? People do very stupid things. Even if you agree that electing Bush was stupid, the argument is fatally flawed because then you would have to agree that electing FDR or Kennedy was an example of this same stupidity.

According to their premise, people were stupid for following Martin Luther King en masse. People were stupid for fighting for freedom and founding Democracies, fighting for women's rights, buying autombiles, using eyeglasses, etc. The list of examples crushing their premise is as long, if not longer than the examples supporting it and that is why the book is worthless.

I don't think anyone on earth would claim that mass behavior is always right or that it is always wrong-- except this is what the authors imply. Anyone with a brain and an objective view of history can see that mobs can be fickle, wrong-headed, ill-informed and dangerous. They can also be moral, inspiring, sensible and progressive. The authors are missing either brains or objectivity. I will give them the benefit of the doubt and say they are missing the objectivity.

It would be like writing a book based on the premise "People are Very Tall" and then talking about Wilt Chamberlain and Shaquille O'Neal as proof. The immediate question in any reader's mind would be, "But what about all the people that are short?" and never getting an answer to that question.

Add to those facts that the authors' tone seems to be very smug and impressed with their own theory. The attempts at humor are awkward.

The book description says this is a "light-hearted" journey. It is in fact so light, it isn't worth your time or money.

If you want a book that talks about mass behavior, read True Believer by Eric Hoffer or The Lucifer Principle by Howard Bloom. Read The Future of Freedom by Fareed Zakaria. Read Malcom Gladwell's books, read Michael Shermer's books, read anything but this book.
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on September 21, 2007
This was a really great read. Hilarious, insightful, and sometimes, pretty outrageous. But I liked the honesty, even when I didn't agree. You feel the authors didn't pull any punches. The book does cover a lot of ground, too, from empire building to hedge funds, and there are great insights all along. What I liked especially is that this is a financial book that actually sees through the financial world.

The blurb by Marc Faber had it right. This is the book you should read if you want to get a sense of the bubble era we just lived through. An added bonus is that Bonner and Rajiva tell you how to avoid the traps that the financial world sets for you. And there's no hard sell (as you get with many investment books). Just good advice on what you can do to protect yourself from the troubles that seem to be looming. According to the authors, the bottom line is this: think for yourself. Don't follow the mob. The way things are, this is a book you probably can't afford not to buy.
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on September 28, 2007
This book is amazing. It told me things that I always suspected but never had the courage to come right out and say. More importantly, it gives historical and current events examples to support each and every point. The author never makes a claim without giving overwhelming evidence to support his claims.

My initial reaction was that the book was "over the top." My last reaction was that the book was "right on target."

I recommend this book for everyone who believes he sees the world clearly -- because after reading this masterpiece, he will see that he was warping his perceptions to fit his preset mindset and was not in touch with reality at all. This book reshapes the way I see my relationships, politics, career, country, and economics.

My only complaint about the book is this: It was so riveting that I had tremendous difficulty putting the book down at night!
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on September 24, 2007
Mobs and Messiahs should be required reading for every adult in the United States. It is unbelievable how much information these two cram into these two division of the book. This is stuff we should all know. But we dont. Stuff that w ould change the shape of the nation. If only the people would read it. Would that some rich uncle would buy million of them and give them away on the street corners ---where ever candidate for president is speaking... We as a nation as a people that are supposed to know something aabout oour heritage. Will find out we are jusst plain dumb.

My prayer is that ever adult in the United States...woould stand up and brag...I read that book.. and ...it changed my life. It is ceertainly changing mine.
Cordous L morris Jr
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on September 15, 2007
This is another book on "the madness of crowds" and the financial havoc this can wreak, especially if they have degrees in finance. The writing is bold, challenging and in many places laugh-out-loud funny. Many investors who have lost money will recognize themselves here.
Reading this book makes it all too clear that the financial markets are not a level playing field, and that their primary function is to siphon money from the pockets of the middle-class many to the pockets of the wealthy few. Perhaps even more important, the authors demonstrate how business cycles, crashes and booms arise from
the malfeasance of greedy financial professionals and corporate executives, and how much of this is covered up or misrepresented by the media. The book contains useful ideas for avoiding the perils of mob-driven investment decisions.
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