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Finance and the Good Society

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Overview

The reputation of the financial industry could hardly be worse than it is today in the painful aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. New York Times best-selling economist Robert Shiller is no apologist for the sins of finance—he is probably the only person to have predicted both the stock market bubble of 2000 and the real estate bubble that led up to the subprime mortgage meltdown. But in this important and timely book, Shiller argues that, rather than condemning finance, we need to reclaim it for the common good. He makes a powerful case for recognizing that finance, far from being a parasite on society, is one of the most powerful tools we have for solving our common problems and increasing the general well-being. We need more financial innovation—not less—and finance should play a larger role in helping society achieve its goals.

Challenging the public and its leaders to rethink finance and its role in society, Shiller argues that finance should be defined not merely as the manipulation of money or the management of risk but as the stewardship of society's assets. He explains how people in financial careers—from CEO, investment manager, and banker to insurer, lawyer, and regulator—can and do manage, protect, and increase these assets. He describes how finance has historically contributed to the good of society through inventions such as insurance, mortgages, savings accounts, and pensions, and argues that we need to envision new ways to rechannel financial creativity to benefit society as a whole.

Ultimately, Shiller shows how society can once again harness the power of finance for the greater good.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Shiller, professor of economics at Yale and author of the best-selling Irrational Exuberance, examines the future of finance in this timely new book. Recognizing the anger of many Americans—as evidenced in part by the rise of the Occupy movement—Shiller suggests that the way to fix our increasingly unequal society is through the "democratization" and "humanization" of finance. From bankers to philanthropists to lobbyists, he outlines the key players and grapples with the pervasive mood of discontent towards the financial industry. Apologist in tone, Shiller pushes for financial innovation and altruism as a means of helping society achieve its goals. While he notes that this book is for the general public, it was originally intended for his students at Yale, and the academic tone persists. His attempts to connect with a wider readership are often misguided—Joni Mitchell, Walt Whitman, and Pablo Escobar (among others) each make a cameo for a paragraph or two, never to be mentioned again. Shiller's biggest difficulty is that he tries for an unruly combination of economics, history, psychology, neuroscience, and philosophy. The resulting jumble of information overwhelms his most fundamental idea: that expanding the scope of finance will help create a good society. (Apr.)
Times Literary Supplement
[R]igorous. . . . Shiller presents a helpful taxonomy, and is convincing in his defence of insurers, financial advisers, and (some) bankers. He is good at relating even some of the more obscure and complex trading strategies to real world problems . . .
— Howard Davies
PublishersWeekly.com Online Review

Shiller, professor of economics at Yale and author of the best-selling Irrational Exuberance, examines the future of finance in this timely new book. Recognizing the anger of many Americans--as evidenced in part by the rise of the Occupy movement--Shiller suggests that the way to fix our increasingly unequal society is through the 'democratization' and 'humanization' of finance.
Financial Times
Finance is in need of a little redemption. In his priestly new book, Finance and the Good Society, Mr. Shiller . . . sets out to provide it. He argues convincingly that finance can, should and usually does make the world a better place. . . . As an advocate for the financial system . . . he is wonderfully persuasive because he never plays down the problems. . . . Mr. Shiller reminds us of the profound importance of finance to making our society work.
— Robin Harding
Bloomberg News
[S]hiller comes across as pragmatic as well as visionary, explaining how much financial capitalism has done for society and how much more it could do if harnessed for the common good.
— James Pressley
Seattle Times
[W]hile many have damned the finance industry for rampant self-interest and a tendency to prey on people's flawed thinking for its own benefit, Shiller wants to overhaul it to make sure finance serves the greater good. The key, he says, in his new book, Finance and the Good Society, is to democratize finance—giving the rest of us access to the tools and techniques that rich folks have used for decades to raise capital and protect themselves from risk.
— Drew DeSilver
Economist
[F]inance and the Good Society is so contrarian as to be shocking—all the more so because its author, Robert Shiller, is no head-in-the-sand capitalist nor a highly paid Wall Street shill. . . . [A]t a time . . . when fear is curbing financial innovation and the political climate could 'prevent financial capitalism from progressing in ways that could benefit all citizens,' Mr. Shiller's sensible message demands urgent attention.
Financial World
Shiller has sought to prove what most of us were prepared to assume: finance may not be the great saviour that will create good society in the Utopian sense, but a society that truly seeks to be good will find in finance a willing partner that can help it achieve its goals. If you are looking for a social revolution, you will not find it in Finance and the Good Society but if you are planning a social revolution you should definitely read this book first.
BizEd
[D]eeply intelligent and elegantly argued.
European Voice
What present would you give to the man who stands on the threshold of the Élysée Palace—a man who has almost everything? A copy of Robert Shiller's Finance and the Good Society might be a timely present. . . . [A] stimulating book . . .
Arab News
Robert Shiller makes a bold but convincing plea to reform the present financial system and use its power for the benefit of society as a whole.
Prospect
Shiller has won a deserved reputation as being among the world's most prescient analysts of financial excesses. When he defends finance, we should pay attention.
— Martin Wolf
Management Today
Shiller argues his case skilfully and persistently, and with a wealth of quirky and interesting examples.
— Lord Skidelsky
New York Times Book Review
Reading his book is like wandering through an interesting garden. . . . [T]he best passages in this book make a persuasive case for a fresh view of an industry that is too glibly demonized. The most promising way to promote the good society, Shiller says, is not to restrain finance but to release it.
— Sebastian Mallaby
SeekingAlpha
What is great about the book, and surprising I suppose, is that Dr. Shiller spends a great deal of time explaining why the practice of modern finance is mostly good. . . . Honestly, it's worth the price of the book just to read an outstanding explanation of why Derivatives Providers, Financial Engineers, and Mortgage Securitizers aren't inherently evil. . . . [T]his is an even-handed book that makes a distinction that has been rarely made in the post-crisis witch-hunt: Hate the sin, love the sinner. The people involved in finance are, in general, good people and the structures, in general, work well most of the time. Improvements can be made, and when the serial crises are over in a few years, hopefully we can discourse intelligently on these improvements. Dr. Shiller has made a good contribution to that discourse with this book.
— Inflation Trader
CFO Magazine
In Finance and the Good Society, the Yale economist comes to praise finance, not to bury it. . . . After examining the often unappreciated value contributed by finance professionals, Shiller reminds us that finance has already helped build a better world through inventions like amortizing mortgages, and mutual funds.
Choice
Shiller, author of The Subprime Solution and Irrational Exuberance and an originator of the Case-Shiller Home Price Indices, has written a timely, readable book, the product of teaching finance for 25 years. Unlike so many recent books stimulated by the financial disruptions that started in 2007, it does not vilify the current system of financial capitalism but instead attempts to inform readers. . . . Judging from the book, Shiller's students are very fortunate.
PublishersWeekly.com
Shiller, professor of economics at Yale and author of the best-selling Irrational Exuberance, examines the future of finance in this timely new book. Recognizing the anger of many Americans—as evidenced in part by the rise of the Occupy movement—Shiller suggests that the way to fix our increasingly unequal society is through the 'democratization' and 'humanization' of finance.
International Affairs
Robert Shiller deserves much praise for trying to restore balance to public discussion of contemporary finance. His task is not easy, but he carries it off clearly, succinctly and with great hope for the possibilities of reformed finance. His focus on 'the good society' is absolutely correct: to build the better society that philosophers and social scientists have sought for ages, we badly need a financial system that works, not only for big business but for all of us.
— Joel Campbell
New York Times Book Review - Sebastian Mallaby
Reading his book is like wandering through an interesting garden. . . . [T]he best passages in this book make a persuasive case for a fresh view of an industry that is too glibly demonized. The most promising way to promote the good society, Shiller says, is not to restrain finance but to release it.
Times Literary Supplement - Howard Davies
[R]igorous. . . . Shiller presents a helpful taxonomy, and is convincing in his defence of insurers, financial advisers, and (some) bankers. He is good at relating even some of the more obscure and complex trading strategies to real world problems . . .
Financial Times - Robin Harding
Finance is in need of a little redemption. In his priestly new book, Finance and the Good Society, Mr. Shiller . . . sets out to provide it. He argues convincingly that finance can, should and usually does make the world a better place. . . . As an advocate for the financial system . . . he is wonderfully persuasive because he never plays down the problems. . . . Mr. Shiller reminds us of the profound importance of finance to making our society work.
Bloomberg News - James Pressley
[S]hiller comes across as pragmatic as well as visionary, explaining how much financial capitalism has done for society and how much more it could do if harnessed for the common good.
Seattle Times - Drew DeSilver
[W]hile many have damned the finance industry for rampant self-interest and a tendency to prey on people's flawed thinking for its own benefit, Shiller wants to overhaul it to make sure finance serves the greater good. The key, he says, in his new book, Finance and the Good Society, is to democratize finance—giving the rest of us access to the tools and techniques that rich folks have used for decades to raise capital and protect themselves from risk.
European Voice - Tim King
If François Hollande really believes finance is an enemy of society, he should read Robert J. Shiller.
Prospect - Martin Wolf
Shiller has won a deserved reputation as being among the world's most prescient analysts of financial excesses. When he defends finance, we should pay attention.
Management Today - Lord Skidelsky
Shiller argues his case skilfully and persistently, and with a wealth of quirky and interesting examples.
SeekingAlpha - Inflation Trader
What is great about the book, and surprising I suppose, is that Dr. Shiller spends a great deal of time explaining why the practice of modern finance is mostly good. . . . Honestly, it's worth the price of the book just to read an outstanding explanation of why Derivatives Providers, Financial Engineers, and Mortgage Securitizers aren't inherently evil. . . . [T]his is an even-handed book that makes a distinction that has been rarely made in the post-crisis witch-hunt: Hate the sin, love the sinner. The people involved in finance are, in general, good people and the structures, in general, work well most of the time. Improvements can be made, and when the serial crises are over in a few years, hopefully we can discourse intelligently on these improvements. Dr. Shiller has made a good contribution to that discourse with this book.
International Affairs - Joel Campbell
Robert Shiller deserves much praise for trying to restore balance to public discussion of contemporary finance. His task is not easy, but he carries it off clearly, succinctly and with great hope for the possibilities of reformed finance. His focus on 'the good society' is absolutely correct: to build the better society that philosophers and social scientists have sought for ages, we badly need a financial system that works, not only for big business but for all of us.
From the Publisher

Robert J. Shiller, Co-Winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Economics

Winner of the 2012 Business Book Award in Finance & Economics, 800-CEO-READ

Winner of the 2012 PROSE Award in Business, Finance & Management, Association of American Publishers

Winner of the 2013 Bronze Medal Book Award in Economics, Axiom Business

One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2012

Shortlisted for the 2012 Best Finance Books in China, Caijing Magazine

"Reading his book is like wandering through an interesting garden. . . . [T]he best passages in this book make a persuasive case for a fresh view of an industry that is too glibly demonized. The most promising way to promote the good society, Shiller says, is not to restrain finance but to release it."—Sebastian Mallaby, New York Times Book Review

"[R]igorous. . . . Shiller presents a helpful taxonomy, and is convincing in his defence of insurers, financial advisers, and (some) bankers. He is good at relating even some of the more obscure and complex trading strategies to real world problems . . ."—Howard Davies, Times Literary Supplement

"Shiller, professor of economics at Yale and author of the best-selling Irrational Exuberance, examines the future of finance in this timely new book. Recognizing the anger of many Americans—as evidenced in part by the rise of the Occupy movement—Shiller suggests that the way to fix our increasingly unequal society is through the 'democratization' and 'humanization' of finance."PublishersWeekly.com Online Review

"Finance is in need of a little redemption. In his priestly new book, Finance and the Good Society, Mr. Shiller . . . sets out to provide it. He argues convincingly that finance can, should and usually does make the world a better place. . . . As an advocate for the financial system . . . he is wonderfully persuasive because he never plays down the problems. . . . Mr. Shiller reminds us of the profound importance of finance to making our society work."—Robin Harding, Financial Times

"[S]hiller comes across as pragmatic as well as visionary, explaining how much financial capitalism has done for society and how much more it could do if harnessed for the common good."—James Pressley, Bloomberg News

"[W]hile many have damned the finance industry for rampant self-interest and a tendency to prey on people's flawed thinking for its own benefit, Shiller wants to overhaul it to make sure finance serves the greater good. The key, he says, in his new book, Finance and the Good Society, is to democratize finance—giving the rest of us access to the tools and techniques that rich folks have used for decades to raise capital and protect themselves from risk."—Drew DeSilver, Seattle Times

"[F]inance and the Good Society is so contrarian as to be shocking—all the more so because its author, Robert Shiller, is no head-in-the-sand capitalist nor a highly paid Wall Street shill. . . . [A]t a time . . . when fear is curbing financial innovation and the political climate could 'prevent financial capitalism from progressing in ways that could benefit all citizens,' Mr. Shiller's sensible message demands urgent attention."Economist

"Shiller has sought to prove what most of us were prepared to assume: finance may not be the great saviour that will create good society in the Utopian sense, but a society that truly seeks to be good will find in finance a willing partner that can help it achieve its goals. If you are looking for a social revolution, you will not find it in Finance and the Good Society but if you are planning a social revolution you should definitely read this book first."Financial World

"[D]eeply intelligent and elegantly argued."BizEd

"If Franois Hollande really believes finance is an enemy of society, he should read Robert J. Shiller."—Tim King, European Voice

"What present would you give to the man who stands on the threshold of the élysée Palace—a man who has almost everything? A copy of Robert Shiller's Finance and the Good Society might be a timely present. . . . [A] stimulating book . . ."European Voice

"Extensively citing history, philosophy, psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science, the book convincingly calls for better fiscal education and claims that greater knowledge will lessen resentment and inequality, improve comprehension, and facilitate 'the good society.' An excellent resource for readers interested in understanding and improving financial capitalism."Library Journal

"Robert Shiller makes a bold but convincing plea to reform the present financial system and use its power for the benefit of society as a whole."Arab News

"Shiller has won a deserved reputation as being among the world's most prescient analysts of financial excesses. When he defends finance, we should pay attention."—Martin Wolf, Prospect

"Shiller argues his case skilfully and persistently, and with a wealth of quirky and interesting examples."—Lord Skidelsky, Management Today

"What is great about the book, and surprising I suppose, is that Dr. Shiller spends a great deal of time explaining why the practice of modern finance is mostly good. . . . Honestly, it's worth the price of the book just to read an outstanding explanation of why Derivatives Providers, Financial Engineers, and Mortgage Securitizers aren't inherently evil. . . . [T]his is an even-handed book that makes a distinction that has been rarely made in the post-crisis witch-hunt: Hate the sin, love the sinner. The people involved in finance are, in general, good people and the structures, in general, work well most of the time. Improvements can be made, and when the serial crises are over in a few years, hopefully we can discourse intelligently on these improvements. Dr. Shiller has made a good contribution to that discourse with this book."—Inflation Trader, SeekingAlpha

"In Finance and the Good Society, the Yale economist comes to praise finance, not to bury it. . . . After examining the often unappreciated value contributed by finance professionals, Shiller reminds us that finance has already helped build a better world through inventions like amortizing mortgages, and mutual funds."CFO Magazine

"Shiller, author of The Subprime Solution and Irrational Exuberance and an originator of the Case-Shiller Home Price Indices, has written a timely, readable book, the product of teaching finance for 25 years. Unlike so many recent books stimulated by the financial disruptions that started in 2007, it does not vilify the current system of financial capitalism but instead attempts to inform readers. . . . Judging from the book, Shiller's students are very fortunate."Choice

"Robert Shiller deserves much praise for trying to restore balance to public discussion of contemporary finance. His task is not easy, but he carries it off clearly, succinctly and with great hope for the possibilities of reformed finance. His focus on 'the good society' is absolutely correct: to build the better society that philosophers and social scientists have sought for ages, we badly need a financial system that works, not only for big business but for all of us."—Joel Campbell, International Affairs

PublishersWeekly.com Online Review
Shiller, professor of economics at Yale and author of the best-selling Irrational Exuberance, examines the future of finance in this timely new book. Recognizing the anger of many Americans—as evidenced in part by the rise of the Occupy movement—Shiller suggests that the way to fix our increasingly unequal society is through the 'democratization' and 'humanization' of finance.
Library Journal
Shiller (economics, Yale Univ.; Irrational Exuberance) believes the recent "financial crisis was…due to fundamental structural shortcomings in our financial institutions." He analyzes the roles of all the players: CEOs, investment managers, bankers, mortgagors, traders, insurers, market designers and engineers, derivatives providers, lawyers, lobbyists, regulators, accountants, educators, public financiers, policymakers, trustees, and philanthropists. Shiller argues that we must still address the financial system's malfunctions and deeper sources of the problems, which have not been solved by new legislation or regulations, by increasing the public's understanding of the "principles underlying corporations" in order to align corporate interests with society's. It is this "democratization and humanization of finance" that will lead to the good society, one in which citizens feel that basic economic justice is assured. VERDICT Extensively citing history, philosophy, psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science, the book convincingly calls for better fiscal education and claims that greater knowledge will lessen resentment and inequality, improve comprehension, and facilitate "the good society." An excellent resource for readers interested in understanding and improving financial capitalism.—Joanne B. Conrad, Geneseo, NY
The New York Times Book Review
Some readers may suspect that Shiller…underestimates the materialism of Manhattan and Greenwich. Others may be frustrated by his meandering style. Reading his book is like wandering through an interesting garden…But the best passages in this book make a persuasive case for a fresh view of an industry that is too glibly demonized.
—Sebastian Mallaby
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691154886
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 3/20/2012
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 498,347
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert J. Shiller is the author of "Irrational Exuberance" and "The Subprime Solution", and the coauthor, with George A. Akerlof, of "Animal Spirits: How Human Psychology Drives the Economy", and "Why It Matters for Global Capitalism" (all Princeton). He is the Arthur M. Okun Professor of Economics at Yale University.

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Table of Contents

Preface vii
Introduction: Finance, Stewardship, and Our Goals 1

Part One: Roles and Responsibilities
1. Chief Executive Offi cers 19
2. Investment Managers 27
3. Bankers 37
4. Investment Bankers 45
5. Mortgage Lenders and Securitizers 50
6. Traders and Market Makers 57
7. Insurers 64
8. Market Designers and Financial Engineers 69
9. Derivatives Providers 75
10. Lawyers and Financial Advisers 81
11. Lobbyists 87
12. Regulators 94
13. Accountants and Auditors 100
14. Educators 103
15. Public Goods Financiers 107
16. Policy Makers in Charge of Stabilizing the Economy 111
17. Trustees and Nonprofi t Managers 119
18. Philanthropists 124

Part Two: Finance and Its Discontents
19. Finance, Mathematics, and Beauty 131
20. Categorizing People: Financiers versus Artists and Other Idealists 135
21. An Impulse for Risk Taking 139
22. An Impulse for Conventionality and Familiarity 143
23. Debt and Leverage 151
24. Some Unfortunate Incentives to Sleaziness Inherent in Finance 159
25. The Signifi cance of Financial Speculation 168
26. Speculative Bubbles and Their Costs to Society 178
27. Inequality and Injustice 187
28. Problems with Philanthropy 197
29. The Dispersal of Ownership of Capital 209
30. The Great Illusion, Then and Now 219

Epilogue: Finance, Power, and Human Values 231
Notes 241
References 257
Index 273

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  • Posted July 10, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    What’s so good about finance and the financial sector? Ple

    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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