Ellen Marsden

The Wall Street Journal ranked 51 of the nation’s leading economic forecasters on the accuracy of their 2008 economic forecasts using two key statistics: 2007-2008 fourth quarter-to-fourth-quarter real GDP growth, and 2008’s ending unemployment rate. The actual change in GDP growth was -0.8 percent. Just one forecaster was in the margin of error; all the rest expected positive real growth. On the unemployment rate, every forecaster expected a much better outcome than the 6.9 percent it actually was. In sum, 101 of the 102 estimates were wrong in the same direction.

A few others, however, got it very right. In The Sages: Warren Buffett, George Soros, Paul Volcker, and the Maelstrom of Markets, Charles R. Morris provides a short, insightful biography of each of these eminently successful men. He then advocates for learning from them as he concludes with a chapter on what’s wrong with our current economics.

Although many prominent forecasters were providing woefully inaccurate forecasts even when the credit crunch was front-page news, Buffett, Soros and Volcker had been warning about the impending crisis for years. Morris argues that they are outstanding successes in part because they’re not overly reliant on a certain market model or particular school of economic thinking, but instead The Sages take a broader view and more commonsense approach. Volcker’s victory over inflation as chairman of the Federal Reserve laid the path for stable global economic growth in the 1980s and 1990s. Buffett and Soros have been wildly successful in the markets, with markedly different investment styles—Buffett the value seeker, in for the long term, and Soros with a keen sense of opportunity, always on the lookout to move in and out of positions quickly. Their core belief is that markets are often wrong. Judging by their success, Morris believes they are right.

While The Sages may be best understood by the layperson who has some insight into how markets work, this is a very timely book with a compelling message for us all.

Ellen R. Marsden writes from Mason, Ohio.

The Wall Street Journal ranked 51 of the nation’s leading economic forecasters on the accuracy of their 2008 economic forecasts using two key statistics: 2007-2008 fourth quarter-to-fourth-quarter real GDP growth, and 2008’s ending unemployment rate. The actual change in GDP growth was -0.8 percent. Just one forecaster was in the margin of error; all the […]

To write The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life, Alice Schroeder spent thousands of hours with Buffett, his friends and family. Schroeder, a Wall Street analyst and former managing director at Morgan Stanley, met Buffett when she published research on Berkshire Hathaway. Impressed with her insights, he suggested she write full-time and the result is a lengthy, evenhanded account of Buffett's life. According to Forbes, Warren Buffett's estimated $62 billion net worth makes him the world's second richest man, behind his good friend Bill Gates. Long before his stellar success with Berkshire Hathaway, Buffett showed an amazing aptitude for numbers and a talent for making money. In high school he delivered newspapers and was earning $175 per month, which was more than his teachers made. By the end of high school, his businesses – which also included reselling pinball machines and refurbishing golf balls – had made him $5,000 (worth about $53,000 today).

"Life is like a snowball," Buffest says about attracting and compounding the value of business opportunities and cultivating relationships. "The important thing is finding wet snow and a really long hill… You've got to be the kind of person that the snow wants to attach itself to."

That is but one of his many guiding principles on careers, business and life presented in the book, others include: "Find something you are passionate about. I only work with people I like. If you go to work every morning with your stomach churning, you're in the wrong business."While Buffett's financial success is legendary, he has made personal and financial mistakes along the way; all are discussed in the book. While The Snowball could have been pared down some, all in all, it's a good investment of your time and money.

Ellen R. Marsden writes from Mason, Ohio.

To write The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life, Alice Schroeder spent thousands of hours with Buffett, his friends and family. Schroeder, a Wall Street analyst and former managing director at Morgan Stanley, met Buffett when she published research on Berkshire Hathaway. Impressed with her insights, he suggested she write full-time and the […]

In While America Aged, business and finance writer Roger Lowenstein skillfully chronicles the evolution of the pension crisis in three very different entities – General Motors, New York City and San Diego – and then offers solutions. Lowenstein (Buffet: The Making of an American Capitalist) depicts the pension crises like entertaining historical fiction with lessons in history, business and human nature.

The history of GM's pension situation can be traced to the late 1940s. The timing was right for union pensions; in 1949 GM had record profits and a union contract expiring in 1950. With swelling market demand the company couldn't afford a strike, so it agreed to a landmark deal, including a pension funded by the company. Successive strike-averting concessions made to the union during GM's boom years resulted in more generous pensions as well as 100-percent paid healthcare. But in the mid- to late 1960s, auto profits slowed and imports eroded GM's sales. Since then, U.S. auto sales have slumped and rising costs have squeezed profits – just as the promised pensions came due. GM had to pay $55 billion into worker pension plans from 1991 to 2006; meanwhile the company paid only $13 billion in dividends to shareholders.

Lowenstein offers suggestions on making retirees' incomes more secure. In the private sector, Lowenstein feels pensions went awry because unions pushed benefits too high while global business competition grew, and life spans increased. Now fewer companies have pensions and instead offer 401(k)s, and Lowenstein suggests that government require 401(k) sponsors to offer annuities to employees as they retire so an income stream is assured. Municipalities and states across the country are virtually insolvent because they are hundred of billions of dollars behind in pension payments. Lowenstein therefore recommends that the federal government require that every dollar of pension benefits is funded as the benefit accrues. As While America Aged underscores, the days of promise now, pay later, are over.

Ellen R. Marsden writes from Mason, Ohio.

In While America Aged, business and finance writer Roger Lowenstein skillfully chronicles the evolution of the pension crisis in three very different entities – General Motors, New York City and San Diego – and then offers solutions. Lowenstein (Buffet: The Making of an American Capitalist) depicts the pension crises like entertaining historical fiction with lessons […]

Odds are you've never heard of the Dassler brothers, but almost assuredly you've heard of the brands they created, Adidas and Puma. In Sneaker Wars, journalist Barbara Smit gives a lively, detailed account of the brands' fates and fortunes in the world of sports, history and business. After reading this book, you won't look at your sneakers or any athletic apparel with a logo quite the same way again.

Adolf (Adi) and Rudolf (Rudi) Dassler established their shoe company in Germany in the 1920s. With their complementary skills – Adi the behind-the-scenes technician, Rudi the extroverted sales type – they made some of the best athletic shoes and enjoyed much success. They also benefited from Hitler's keen interest in sports. Athletic accomplishment had high propaganda value and Hitler wanted to showcase German power and athletic prowess at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Many of the German athletes were wearing Dassler shoes. Adi, however, was determined to get their shoes on Jesse Owens, an extraordinary black American athlete who was expected to shine at the Olympics. And when Owens smashed records and collected numerous gold medals wearing the brothers' shoes, the Dasslers secured a reputation with the world's most prominent athletes.

But wartime quarrels about who was vying for control of the company caused a bitter rift between the brothers and the company was split in 1948. Everything from equipment to employees to patents was divided between them. Adi registered Adidas. Rudi registered Puma. And the sneaker wars began. Over generations, the rivalry led not only to Adidas and Puma making competing products, it resulted in increasingly clever and crafty ways of marketing and selling those products. Smit highlights the intriguing behind-the-scenes activity and historical backdrop that made sports business what it is today. What began with shoe brands courting Olympic athletes with hushed illegal “bonuses” under bathroom stalls evolved into multimillion-dollar celebrity and team endorsements, and the outsize sports personalities that are now commonplace. Sneaker Wars reveals how the game is really played.

Ellen R. Marsden writes from Mason, Ohio.

Odds are you've never heard of the Dassler brothers, but almost assuredly you've heard of the brands they created, Adidas and Puma. In Sneaker Wars, journalist Barbara Smit gives a lively, detailed account of the brands' fates and fortunes in the world of sports, history and business. After reading this book, you won't look at […]

reporter Jennifer 8. Lee's (the 8 connotes prosperity in Chinese) new book, The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food, begins with a story about Powerball. In March 2005, the $84 million megalottery jackpot had generated a modest $11 million in ticket sales across 29 states, and officials anticipated three or four second-place winners and maybe one jackpot winner. Instead, there were 104 second-place winners who had selected theidentical six numbers. Where had all these winners gotten their numbers? From a fortune cookie. What started as Lee's initial search for the fortune cookie manufacturer became a search for the fortune cookie's history, which in turn raised questions about the origin and evolution of Chinese food in America.

With more Chinese restaurants in the U.S. than McDonald's, Burger King and KFC restaurants combined, it's obvious that Americans have a consuming passion for Chinese food, or more accurately phrased, Americanized Chinese food. There is no General Tso's chicken in China. Chop suey (as we know it, anyway) was invented here. Even the beloved, fabled and ever-entertaining fortune cookie is not Chinese in origin; it's not American either. How did these and other dishes, “ethnic” yet not too exotic, flavorful yet comforting, come to be? Lee traveled the world and conducted extensive research to find the answers and even goes so far as to identify the world's greatest Chineserestaurant outside of China (sorry, it is not in the U.S.).

The Fortune Cookie Chronicles is enjoyable and revealing, and provides insight and an education into the American and Chinese cultures; it's also a tasty blend of thehistory and culture surrounding the rise in popularity of American Chinese food.

Ellen R. Marsden writes from Mason, Ohio.

 

reporter Jennifer 8. Lee's (the 8 connotes prosperity in Chinese) new book, The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food, begins with a story about Powerball. In March 2005, the $84 million megalottery jackpot had generated a modest $11 million in ticket sales across 29 states, and officials anticipated three or four […]

If you already have substantial retirement accounts, it's important to make sure the money is well protected against common and costly planning mistakes, and structured so that it takes full advantage of tax breaks. In Your Complete Retirement Planning Road Map: The Leave-Nothing-to-Chance, Worry-Free, All-Systems-Go Guide nationally known IRA expert Ed Slott details how to protect and preserve your retirement savings, no matter where you are in the planning process. Slott incorporates information from the August 2006 tax laws, making this a very timely guide for dealing with IRAs, 401(k)s, 403(b)s and other accounts.

This is not a book on how to invest for retirement; Slott assumes you're already doing that. Instead, he offers guidance on giving your retirement accounts regular and thorough checkups. The book is made up of five easy-to-read sections, with topics ranging from developing a detailed account overview and managing your accounts to what to do as a beneficiary. It also gives advice on how to handle special retirement account problems, such as divorce, same-sex and unmarried couple issues and naming a charity as beneficiary. Slott's no-nonsense approach should help you keep your retirement accounts in top-notch condition.

Ellen R. Marsden writes from Mason, Ohio.

If you already have substantial retirement accounts, it's important to make sure the money is well protected against common and costly planning mistakes, and structured so that it takes full advantage of tax breaks. In Your Complete Retirement Planning Road Map: The Leave-Nothing-to-Chance, Worry-Free, All-Systems-Go Guide nationally known IRA expert Ed Slott details how to […]

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