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on 9 September 2012
Robert Shiller, in my opinion, is one of the clear and resounding voices that helps clarify how financial capitalism adds value to our society.

The book is a very easy read, broken up into small and clear chapters. This is a very accessible book whose main achievement is to give the reader a good idea of what the different opaque finance related professions are about and why they are not the leeches they are portrayed to be by the modern media. The book also offers a wide variety of ideas on making the system more fit for the everyday consumer. It also brings up philosophical topics ranging from Nietsche to Adam Smith, to Marx and even Freud.

However it does suffer from a lack of focus, even though democratization of finance is the recurring theme, there is not enough content on the process and achievability of the ideas presented and instead an excessive jumping around from topic to topic.

I would recommend this book to those who are interested in the Occupy movement, not because it is directly related, but it can probably give a clearer picture of the kind of things that can be done to help those without much financial firepower.
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on 8 August 2012
This book is a wide ranging and at times a very philosophical survey of the financial industry, dealing with a wide selection of moral and psychological questions relating to finance.

The first half of the book is a list of job titles within the financial industry and provides a perhaps sympathetic interpretation of what they do and how they do it. This part would be useful to someone thinking of entering the industry.

The second half draws from the authors wide ranging knowledge in this and other areas, to approach a number of issues relating to finance and the way it interacts with wider social objectives.

On the whole I found the book to be informative and a pleasant eclectic read, with a few nuggets of interest, but lacking clear strong focus on memorable big ideas which I could get excited about.

A few ideas ideas which did stick out: Firstly the idea that pension entitlements or debt (Greek debt?) should be promised in a metric which reflects GDP change over time, and other ideas like this for new metrics. I liked the idea of "odious debt" which could be ascribed to some forms of lending, making future collection less enforceable and therefore warning off unscrupulous lenders. E.g. this label of odious debt could be ascribed to home buyers who clearly should not be buying or dictators in Third World countries, which would make new lenders think twice. He interestingly mentions concerns about the shift away from the partnership form of businesses in the financial services industry which may induce more risk taking. Also some good criticism of the efficient market theory and how it was at the root of many recent mistakes. But I found the author to be a little too forgiving of recent mistakes, and a bit too enamoured of financial complexity like mortgage securitisation which I think has been tarnished?

Favourite bits:

"The convenient opportunity the bubble gave to politicians to make use of the 'let them eat credit' strategy (to use a term coined by Raghuram Rajan after the collapse of the economy) to deal with worldwide rumblings of discontent resulting from increasing social inequality." p114

(Citation from Walter Bagehot 1896, then the editor The Economist ) "Credit-the disposition of one man to trust another-is singularly varying. In England after a great calamity, everybody is suspicious of everybody; as soon as that calamity is forgotten, everybody again confides in everybody." p112.
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on 10 July 2012
What's so good about finance and the financial sector? Plenty, according to noted economist Robert J. Shiller. Even though much of society is furious over the financial industry's excesses and wrongdoings, Shiller's voice rings out in a reasoned, yet passionate - though solitary - defense of the value finance brings to society. True, he says, rogues may crop up in the industry - but most of the sector boasts intelligent, honest, hardworking men and women who contribute to advancing society and the economy for the benefit of all, not just the wealthiest. While Shiller makes good points about the way finance usually contributes to society, his straightforward presentation tends to gloss over some egregious recent examples of corporate greed and mischief. Though he cites some examples of dubious behavior, he dubs investment bankers "keepers of the peace." Well, maybe you wouldn't go that far, but getAbstract suggests Shiller's lucid exposition of financiers' responsibilities to those who welcome a commonsense approach to the reforms needed to drive the global financial engine forward.
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on 20 June 2012
The first half of the book seems to be by far the clearest available introduction to Finance. Shiller provides a concrete overview of the whole sector by writing short but realistic sketches of some 25 different roles - banker, trader, regulator etc. For those working in Finance the book will be helpful in filling the gaps in knowledge that most of us have, I learned a lot despite several years experience at investment banks. When you have a good understanding of what your sector is all about and how it fits in with wider society, it helps make your work more meaningful and (possibly) can even help you be more successful and ethical. The book is easily clear enough to be suitable for young students, and might be especially useful for those yet to decide whether or not to pursue a Finance degree.

One of the key themes of the book is that, in contrast to widely held current perceptions, Finance is much more a source of social good than it is harm. In the introduction, Shiller defines Finance as the 'science of goal architecture'. By assisting the stewardship and effective allocation of resources, Finance is often essential in helping individuals and the public get things done. Im calling this a visionary book due to the wealth of ideas contained in the second half, which focus on proposals to democratise and reform the sector for the benefit of all, while preserving as much of its freedoms as possible, especially freedom to innovate. Only a small fraction of the book is appliable only to the US. There's surprisingly little left wing thinking, one can imagine the same things being said by an intelligent figure from the moderate right like Ian Bremmer. Theres even a few parts that the more thoughtful Austrian School types might like.

Unlike some of his previous work, the writing style seems almost flawless. There are ample references to the work of others, and some very well judged psychological and philosophical speculation. Considering the book is partly about the good society, perhaps the only thing missing is an awareness of the spiritual dimension. I cant see too many folk liking all Shillers ideas, I violently disagreed with a few of them. But the suggestions are sufficiently wide ranging and non partisan that most should find plenty to agree with. Almost 4 years ago I wrote that Shiller was one of the thought leaders driving an emergent global Keynesian resurgence. The resurgence did in fact come to fruition, but was then driven back by a Greek tradegy and reactionary forces that arose very soon after the worlds leaders began concretively implementing Keynesian policy. With this book, Shiller seems to be promoting a more gradual but much more enduring transformation, which should be acceptable to all political persuasions. If thats part of what he's trying to achieve, what a great tactic to couple his reform proposals with the best ever introduction to Finance!
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on 20 July 2012
This is the first book I read by Robert Schiller. The first half of the book provides a good overview of the aims of finance and the various actors (e.g. bankers, regulators, educators) and their roles in the world of finance. Good section, but I found that it did not manage to 'engage' me and it became quite long and descriptive. Second section focused more on the various topics facing finance (e.g. risk taking, income/wealth inequality, speculative bubbles) which was more interesting.

I was hoping the book would provide more details and be more 'provocative' on how finance can contribute to more equality, but I felt it did not properly manage this. Perhaps my expectations of the books were too high, considering Schiller's reputation.

Still worth a read (as I agree with many of Schiller's observations), but I felt the book mostly provides an overview and perspectives of the various actors in finance and the role of finance in society. Would have benefited from more depth and analysis.

Daniel
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on 10 April 2014
Very detailed examples and an engaging read for the first half of the book. Can't say the same for the rest of the book though. Gets too involved in the specific at times and a bit hard to read.
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on 23 March 2013
I find it quite enjoyable to read. Robert J. Shiller explains how finance can contribute to a good society. It is worth buying.
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