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The High-Beta Rich: How the Manic Wealthy Will Take Us to the Next Boom, Bubble, and Bust Hardcover – Deckle Edge, November 1, 2011

4.2 out of 5 stars 71 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“Fascinating.”—Financial Times

The High-Beta Rich is one that deserves to be read, and not just because it provides the rest of us with a cathartic dose of schadenfreude at the expense of the super-wealthy. Robert Frank makes a new, contrarian argument with important implications for economic policymaking: modern wealth is a far more volatile substance than is commonly believed.” ¯The Economist
“Frank writes in a pleasingly breezy style and makes a convincing argument that the volatile earnings and spending of the high-beta rich have wound up distorting communities, the economy and government.” ¯Bloomberg
“While the recession continues to wreak havoc in the economic lives of the nation’s middle- and low-income population, Frank provides a cogent explanation of how megabillionaires have contributed to today’s economic conditions and heightened economic inequities. Furthermore, he shows that few are genuinely interested in job creation or the long-term prosperity of others.”
¯Publishers Weekly

“When most people write about the very wealthy, they cannot stop themselves from either sneering or drooling with envy. Robert Frank is different. He writes with great panache -- and insight, and curiosity -- about a slice of Americana whose behavior affects the rest of us more than we might think. A great read."
--Stephen J. Dubner, co-author of Freakonomics

“Robert Frank has uncovered one of the most important new forces shaping our economy: the increasing volatility of the wealthy. Filled with gripping human stories and ground-breaking analysis, The High-Beta Rich will change the way you think about wealth and the American economy.  Funny, smart and memorable.”
--Nouriel Roubini, Economist, author of Crisis Economics
“Lively and insightful. Money, a primitive but useful motivator, also exacerbates the most basic human tendencies and amplifies a society's characteristics and cycles, like the US's overconsumption binge. The High-Beta Rich gives an excellent portrait of these excesses.”
--Nicolas Berggruen, billionaire financier, philanthropist

“The High-Beta Rich vividly illustrates how the wealthy and those they employ have become increasingly tied to the vicissitudes of the stock market and the macroeconomy .  It is a cautionary tale for all."
--Steven Neil Kaplan, professor of entrepreneurship and finance at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business

"If you, like I, have had it up to here with the rich, you will love the chapter about the repo men who specialize in yachts."
--Joe Queenan, Columnist, author of Closing Time

About the Author

ROBERT FRANK is the Wealth Reporter for The Wall Street Journal and the author of the New York Times bestselling book, "Richistan." His blog, The Wealth Report, was named by Time magazine as one of the nation's most influential business blogs. He is one of the nation's leading authorities on wealth and is a frequent contributor to NPR, ABC News, and Fox Business.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Crown Business (November 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780307589897
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307589897
  • ASIN: 0307589897
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (71 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #749,116 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is an excellent book about a little known subject: Plutonomy. The Plutonomy theory was advanced in 2005 by three Citigroup stock analysts, including Ajay Kapur mentioned in the book. Their research report was called "Plutonomy: Buying Luxury, Explaining Global Imbalances." This theory was so controversial that Citigroup removed it from its website. The main point is that the rich (typically defined as the top 1% of earners) control a very large and rising share of national consumer spending. Mark Zandi, the chief economist for Moody's Analytics uncovered that the top 5% of American earners account for 37% of consumer spending (up from 25% in 1990). This same group has also the lowest savings rate at 1.4% vs 8% for the rest of Americans. Therefore, their spending habits have a disproportionate impact on the overall economy including our savings rate and related Current Account Deficit.

Robert Frank advances the Plutonomy theory further by tying Ajay Kapur's work with the working paper of two Northwestern University economists, Jonathan A. Parker and Annette Vissing-Jorgensen titled "The Increase in Income Cyclicality of High-Income Households..." Fusing those two works, Robert Frank states that since 1982 the rich have become risk takers and gamblers. This is because starting in 1982 government policies have favored risk taking by lowering interest rates, inflation, and taxes, and deregulating the financial markets. The combination of those policies contributed to an excessive extension of real estate credit and a succession of real estate and stock market bubbles caused in part by the High-Beta Rich exploiting the mentioned government policies.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
"The smell of espresso and freshly basked croissants fills the private-jet terminal of Orlando Sanford International Airport." This visual detail makes Robert Frank's writing vivid and convincing. He goes on to describe how a Repo Man and his partner recover assets from the rich. Amazing skills they have to pick up private jets and luxury yachts that have fallen into the hands of creditors.
The stories are scary - a reminder of how easily fortunes are made and lost. The book is peppered with quotations, statistics and charts. "In 2007,..., the richest 1% of Americans held more than $3.5 trillion in residential real estate, or about 34% if the nation's total." The author highlights the spending differences between rich and poor Americans. The top 1% earn 20% of the US's income and pay 38% of federal income taxes.

A particularly sad story is the demise of stores in the Rocky Mountain resort of Aspen and the corresponding drop in house prices. From a small town, the author moves to the state of California. The analysis of state income follies and overspent budgets is shallow, but highly readable.

Finally the author gives some ideas for surviving in highly volatile stock markets. He encourages savings and rainy day funds.

This books dire warnings and heartbreaking examples should be read by all who want to avoid a financial catastrophe. Thorough research and clear writing makes this a great book for anyone interested in wealth, from butlers to billionaires.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Robert Frank is a good journalist. He knows how to write a sentence and manages to get people to open up and say things they probably shouldn't say. Frank has found a few colorful people who made a ton of money and lost it all in the 2008 crash to open up the doors of their half built mansions and rundown pickups and tell their life stories. These are engaging individuals and Frank mines their stories well. These people were all hard workers who benefited from the real estate boom in the 1980s to 2000s before their wealth went poof.

Where Frank comes up short is in his attempts to tie these personal stories to his thesis that the wealthy today are far less risk averse in their investing than those in the past. They are "high-beta" rich, making more money during boom years and losing more money during recessions. His examples don't come from a broad swath of the wealthy. All of them are real-estate based tycoons. The Great Recession was hard on real estate, which unlike the stock market has yet to recover. The unanswered question is how common and widespread is the catastrophic wealth loss detailed in this book. I believe that those that invested in travel related real estate - time shares and vacation homes for the rich, which was the source of wealth for the handful of people examined here - suffered greatly. But those in other sectors of real estate and finance seem to be managing just fine by and large. Frank may be cherry picking to try to make his point.

Frank relies on data that show, on average for the last 30 years, the wealthiest one percent of this country have done worse during recessions and better in good times than the rest of the population. But those are averages and they mask details.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
In "The High-Beta Rich" Robert Frank delivers the dismal story of how America's economic wellbeing has become entwined with the volatility and vulnerability of the High-Beta rich. Frank describes how millionaires prior to 1982 had similar traits, their wealth was created by "making things or owning a family business." After 1982 two groups emerged, the old millionaires and the new whose wealth was accumulated rapidly through trading in stocks, "running publicly traded companies, entertainers" sports figures and various top paying careers (certain doctors, lawyers, etc,). It is this second group, the High-Beta rich that Frank's theme revolves around and how their actions and decisions impact the American economy.

Franks uses examples of a few Beta-rich people who overextended themselves through arrogance, foolishness or plain stupidity and managed to lose all or a substantial amount of their wealth. The author shows how this small assortment of wealthy people and their rise and fall as millionaires is entangled with the prosperity and welfare of those they employ and the communities they live in.

Many of these new millionaires succumbed to what Frank so amply describes as being "caught up in the status race and spending binge of the 2000s with little regard for the long-term costs or consequences." However, a large amount of those who are counted as the wealthiest barely felt the bump in the road. Frank writes "Most of them recovered from their crash with minor damage, thanks in part to the government bailout of Wall Street and the Federal Reserve's support of financial markets, which largely benefited the wealthy.
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