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Chuck Chamness

Chuck Chamness
President & CEO

Telephone: 317.875.5250
Fax: 317.876.6212
president@namic.org

Holiday Reading 2010

Readers of Advocacy Update are already familiar with the many federal, state, and regulatory battles fought – and largely won – by NAMIC and members this year. So let’s end the year on a lighter note after dealing with the repercussions of the financial crisis and largely keeping our industry out of the painful “solutions” that will now be applied to others in financial services.

I know I’m looking forward to spending time over the holidays catching up on reading. In the event you are still searching for worthwhile material, I recommend the following books … from the serious to the sublime to the ridiculous and hilarious.

Happy holidays to you and yours … we’re looking forward to an outstanding 2011!

First, a financial crisis trilogy:

Too Big to Fail by Andrew Ross Sorkin
This book is a must-read for anyone who wants a better understanding of the financial crisis and the players and institutions at ground zero. Sorkin, a New York Times business reporter, offers a well-sourced book that includes a remarkable amount of background information on the events as they unfolded. It reads like a spy thriller, as the financial world is melting down and the key players, such as Paulson, Geithner, and Bernanke, are trying to save us all.

The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis
The witty author of Liars Poker, a financial classic from another era, Lewis tells the story of a handful of investors who saw that the sub-prime market was fundamentally flawed and found ways to bet against it using credit default swaps and other means. In writing about two young and inexperienced hedge fund managers who had the audacity to “short” the housing market, Lewis says they "had always sort of assumed that there was some grown-up in charge of the financial system whom they had never met; now they saw there was not."

Lords of Finance, The Bankers Who Broke the World by Liaquat Ahamed
Like doctors of the same era hoping their “cures” helped rather than harmed the patient, this is the account of four central bankers in the 1920s who tried to save the world from the crisis that became the Great Depression. Their world is grounded in the gold standard, curl-your-hair hyperinflation (“… the price of a two-kilo loaf of bread had soared from 20 billion marks to 140 billion, sparking off nationwide riots.”) and Germany’s war reparations that helped trigger the collapse and paved the way for Hitler’s ascendance.

If you’ve had enough of the financial crisis already (I’m with you), here are some other recommended readings:

American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson by Joseph Ellis
Thomas Jefferson is a fascinating figure in American history, and a trip to Monticello should be part of everyone’s vacation route at some point. Joseph Ellis discusses the daunting task of writing another Jefferson biography. "My approach is selective ... to focus on the values and convictions that reveal themselves in these specific historical contexts.... Our chief quarry, after all, is Jefferson's character, the animating principles that informed his public and private life."

Don’t Vote, It Just Encourages the Bastards by P.J. O’Rourke
It’s a long way from Thomas Jefferson to my favorite O’Rourke book since Parliament of Whores. In “Don’t Vote,” P.J. again shows why he is the most quoted living man in The Penguin Dictionary of Modern Humorous Quotations. Every chapter offers insights; every page offers laughs; and throughout are reminders of how we get the government we deserve. He asks key questions for our industry like why was the healthcare reform debate framed in terms of health insurance? “When your house is on fire, do you call Allstate or 911?”; the financial crisis: “The best investment I’ve made lately? I left a $20 bill in the pocket of my tweed jacket last spring, and I just found it”; and climate change: “There are 1.3 billion people in China and they all want a Buick. Actually, if you go a mile or two outside China’s big cities, the wants are more basic. People want a hotplate and a piece of methane-emitting cow to cook on it” … which is a good transition to the next book.

Why We Hate the Oil Companies by John Hofmeister
I heard the author, a former president of Shell Oil Company, speak at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce meeting, but I read Hofmeister’s book to learn more about his views on our energy challenges that are clearly driving U.S. economic, environmental, and, increasingly, foreign policies. He reminds us that we’re on the eighth president and 18th Congress since President Nixon declared energy independence in 1973. And yet today, America uses nearly 21 million barrels of oil a day (10,000 barrels a second) of which we produce only 7 million of those barrels. Put this in the context of dramatically increasing energy use by emerging economies like China and India (see O’Rourke on Buicks), and you begin to see some major challenges ahead. While Hofmeister offers some answers, there are no easy solutions.

The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore
Is it nature, nurture, or just the difference that a few good breaks can make in a young person’s life? Two kids with the same name, living in the same city. One grew up to be a Rhodes Scholar, decorated combat veteran, White House Fellow, and business leader. The other is serving a life sentence in prison for murder. The first Wes Moore reached out to the “other” Wes Moore in prison and began a relationship that enabled him to tell the tale of both of them. It’s a compelling story, both sad and inspiring.

Searching for the Sound by Phil Lesh
I saw the Grateful Dead one time, at RFK Stadium in the early 1990s. The Dead concert setting was not really my “scene,” but I’m a huge fan of the music (particularly the roots/bluegrass/country era) and the many live performance recordings that keep it alive today. In Phil’s book, the Dead’s eccentric (weren’t they all?) bassist tells his story of the long, strange trip that began 45 years ago in the San Francisco of the ’60s.

Debt Free U: How I Paid for an Outstanding College Education by Zac Bissonnette
If you wonder why I read this book please note Briget and I have four teenagers with the eldest going to college next year. It’s a revealing volume about the economics of higher education and the challenge of paying for the second biggest expense most families face. When you look at the startling numbers, it’s no wonder that students (and a few anarchists I’m sure … they love a rowdy protest) attacked the royals over tuition fee increases in London last week. Bissonnette is a hard-working and enterprising young man who took a sober look at the realities of higher education and decided to go a different route from that chosen by many students and families.

Posted: Monday, December 20, 2010 2:57:32 PM. Modified: Tuesday, May 20, 2014 2:15:02 PM.

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