Book Review - The Boston Globe

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Ordinarily there are included in Reference Materials, inter alia, book reviews from the NY Times and the Washington Post (and, if our focus book is on a financial topic, The Wall Street Journal and, if it is on an international topic, one of the leading London newspapers).

Although “5 Easy Theses” was published by Houghton Mifflin more than a month ago on 5/3/2016, there do NOT appear to be any book reviews in any newspapers (major or minor) except The Boston Globe.

Accordingly, the review from The Boston Globe is posted in this section.

In addition, the reader’s attention is called to all of the Editorial Review Excerpts included in the Original Proposal (which is the second section above on this Bulletin Board) from –

Paul A. Volcker, Chairman of the Federal Reserve (1979 to 1987) under Presidents Carter and Reagan and currently chairman of the Volcker Alliance
Edward O. Wilson, University Research Professor Emeritus, Harvard University, Twice Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Non-Fiction
Tom Daschle, Former U.S. Senate Majority Leader (Democrat, S. Dakota)
David T. Ellwood, Scott M. Black Professor of Political Economy and Former Dean of the Harvard U’s Kennedy School of Government
Clayton Yeutter, former Chairman, Republican National Committee, and former United States Secretary of Agriculture
Norman Ornstein, author, political scientist, and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute
Jonathan D. Quick, MD, MPH, Management Sciences for Health, Global Health Council, and Harvard Medical School
Michael S. Helfer, Former Vice Chairman, Citigroup, Inc.
Lawrence S. Bacow, President of Tufts University (2001-2011)

Our apologies for not posting the review from The Boston Globe earlier -- we were hoping for book reviews from our traditional sources. However, we now have only 8 days to go until our June 15 meeting.

John K. -- 6/7/2016
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johnkarls
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Book Review - The Boston Globe

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The Boston Globe – 5/26/2016


A clear look at complex US economic problems in ‘5 Easy Theses’
By Steven Syre – Boston Globe’s 20-Year Business Columnist Who Accepted A Buyout Of His Contract 9/16/2015


Certainly there is no shortage of serious economic and social problems facing America today. You could easily build a library dedicated to books by authors with plans to fix them one at a time.

In his new book, “5 Easy Theses,” James M. Stone takes on a bunch of very big ones all at once. He’s got ideas on tackling the federal government’s fiscal mess, income inequality in America, challenges in education and health care, as well as how to reform the financial services industry in as many chapters. Who knows what he would have added if the movie his book title winks at was called “Six Easy Pieces.’’

None of the solutions Stone proposes could be called particularly original, and a few of them are well worn. But the strength of his book lies in its ability to make numbingly complex topics and ideas about how to deal with them accessible to a general reader. He is a clear writer and thinker whose book, covering fewer than 300 pages, won’t wear out its welcome with most.

Stone comes to the challenge of fixing such difficult problems as an experienced businessman, philanthropist, and former regulator with a background in academic economics. The founder and long-time chief executive of Boston’s Plymouth Rock Assurance Corp. once taught financial economics at Harvard. He formerly served as insurance commissioner in Massachusetts and later became chairman of the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

Stone calls his ideas “commonsense” solutions and that description often fits. But they aren’t always easy answers and won’t necessarily be welcome. You will undoubtedly hear many similar plans debated during this summer’s election campaign season and, though Stone does not come across as political, most of those ideas will be advanced by Democrats.

On the subject of income inequality, Stone wants to attack a growing “aristocracy of wealth,” which he considers especially corrosive to traditional American values. He wants to tax unrealized gains — paper profits — on investments. Another key element of his plan: Close loopholes created by trusts and more aggressively tax the transfer of wealth between generations of the very rich.

Stone’s prescription for managing the rising cost of health care includes a single-payer system that cuts out insurance companies (Plymouth Rock sells car insurance, not health coverage). His plans target a number of costs, from high-priced drugs to physician salaries to expensive end-of-life care. But his main argument supports the idea of a government agency acting as a single payer, negotiator, and regulator of American health care.

When it comes to the perennial federal government budget mess, Stone’s solution depends mostly on targeting tax deductions rather than cutting spending. In particular, he would eliminate interest-expense deductions for businesses and people. For most of us, that would mean home-mortgage interest. He has a plan to help Social Security but concedes the problems facing Medicare elude any easy thesis.

Wall Street and the nation’s largest banks get a lot of attention. Stone points out they are bigger than ever, and he sees them as a clear and present economic danger to the rest of us should they falter or fail. He would put pressure on the biggest to shrink, with higher capital requirements or increased deposit-insurance rates that could diminish the profitability of sheer size. He would make hedge funds, which tend to draw wealthier investors, operate under the same kind of disclosure rules that apply to mutual funds to make their activities more transparent.

Finally, Stone finds a lot of room for improvement at every level of American education. He recommends a series of best practices to improve grade-school performance, including longer hours, data-driven administration, and more flexibility when it comes to hiring teachers. His plan to cope with the cost of higher education and loans students accumulate in college is built around yearlong universal national service that could help the country and reduce personal debts.

Despite all the problems he cites, Stone is no doomsday alarmist. He writes that he wanted to offer bipartisan solutions to make America a better place, proposals that may be beyond our current political grasp but still worth the reach. At a minimum, they are clear ideas about real problems and worth serious discussion.

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