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Customer Review

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Impactful, but Ignores the Elephants in the Room, July 6, 2008
This review is from: High Wire: The Precarious Financial Lives of American Families (Hardcover)
Gosselin's "High Wire" asserts that over the past quarter-century the "ownership society" is becoming the "on-your-own society," contrary to the thinking behind the Mayflower Compact that united everyone for the common good.

Insurance is Gosselin's biggest target, and anecdotal evidence provided by actual Americans his vehicle. Private sector health insurers were exempted from professional liability due to ERISA (1974) rulings, state laws notwithstanding. Thus, these insurers have every incentive to delay and with-hold payments, and plaintiff attorneys little/no incentive to sue for damages. Similarly, homeowners (about 60%) are often surprised to find their home insurance scaled back from "guaranteed replacement cost" to "extended replacement cost" ($X + Y%), while others find coverage unavailable at any cost. Finally, pensions are increasingly threatened by the vagaries of the stock market, coupled with the time and information demands associated with it. (Gosselin documents that even Nobel Prize winners in economics do take the time to do so.)

Gosselin's most alarming revelation, however, is the fact that the odds of a family seeing an income drop of 50% or more during any 2-year interval have gone from about 5% in the 1970s to about 9% in the 2000's. The pattern is the same for all ages, income levels, and amount of education. Further, the average size workplace slid 18% during the same period; 50% in L.A. - smaller firms have always had weaker job and benefit security.

Clearly there are fewer stable jobs and sources of reliable benefits. Gosselin also emphasizes that a college education is less than touted. Large debts hanging over graduates (the average private four-year school cost increased 8X over the prior three decades, public school costs rose 7X, while median incomes rose 23%). Most "increased aid" (the rationale offered for these increases) actually consists of loans.

A major Gosselin weak point is his overemphasis on anecdotes and an underemphasis on generalizable, clear statistics. (The lack of clarity is due to his continual failure to state whether various statistics that are offered are inflation-adjusted or not.)

"High Wire's" biggest weakness, however, is his failure to provide any information/data on why jobs, earnings, and benefits are weakening. Thus, readers cannot understand the overall logic behind these dark trends (temporary, or permanent) or develop reasonable solutions (eg. simply require better treatment of workers, or also shield American corporations from rapacious competitors).

Elephants in the room that Gosselin missed include: #1: Outsourcing to Asia, legal (eg. H-1B) and illegal immigration, and automation are causing major job losses. #2: Runaway costs in higher education are largely encouraged by government funding. #3: Runaway costs in health care are also encouraged by government funding; government also has missed a large opportunity to identify and decrease wasteful spending.

The "good news" is that President Bush's effort to privatize Social Security and add it to the "ownership society" failed - just before the latest market dive.
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Location: Phoenix, AZ.

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