The Wealth of Choices: How the New Economy Puts Power in Your Hands and Money in Your Pocket

The Wealth of Choices: How the New Economy Puts Power in Your Hands and Money in Your Pocket

by Alan Murray
It's Not Your Father's Economy . . .

If Adam Smith were to visit the United States today, he would be a very happy man. That invisible hand he made famous in The Wealth of Nations two centuries ago is more limber and supple than ever. Indeed, competition in the New Economy is so intense and uncompromising that everyone, even Fortune 500 giants, must


It's Not Your Father's Economy . . .

If Adam Smith were to visit the United States today, he would be a very happy man. That invisible hand he made famous in The Wealth of Nations two centuries ago is more limber and supple than ever. Indeed, competition in the New Economy is so intense and uncompromising that everyone, even Fortune 500 giants, must bend to it. All of this competition has lead to a wealth of choices about every aspect of our lives — and a huge shift in how society works and who gets rewarded.

Alan Murray, the Washington bureau chief of The Wall Street Journal, shows how all of us can not only live in the New Economy, but thrive in it. The New Economy isn't just another buzz phrase, but an important change in our economic system, one that has meaning for everyone, not just the economic elite. It's creating a world in which all prices are fuzzy and everything is negotiable. If you know what you're doing, there are great gains to be made and great bargains to be had.

Starting with a thoughtful overview of how the New Economy works, Murray shows, chapter by chapter, what all of us can do to take advantage of the changes taking place in everything from health care to education to the workplace. The rules have changed — and Murray's smart advice may surprise you:

Health Care: The most potentially traumatic change in the New Economy will be in the relationship between you and your doctor. Murray explains what you need to know to be an effective consumer in this ever-changing market.

Education: The price of a good education has gone sky high. But your mind is your most important investment. Murray showshow to cut costs and cut deals that will help you grow.

Your Job: The revolution in the workplace means that you have to think of yourself as a brand. Murray shows how to compete and excel.

Personal Finance: Your father said avoid credit cards, but he never saw rates of 3.9 percent! Murray shows how you can turn the tables and use the insane competition between credit card companies to your advantage.

Investing: "Professional money manager" is an oxymoron. They don't know much more than you! Murray provides easy-to-use rules that will let you get great returns on your own.

Retirement: Old age isn't what it used to be. Murray explains why the traditional three-legged stool (social security, private pension, personal saving) is rickety — and what to do about it.

And much more, including websites that can help you navigate the wealth of choices, inside information on where the economy will go next, and a treasure trove of straightforward, concrete advice on thriving in a world where the consumer is king.

Anyone can talk about the New Economy. Alan Murray shows how to live in it. The Wealth of Choices is the first book that combines the big picture and the street-smart tactics that will help you to profit and live well.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Over the past two decades, globalization, deregulation and digitization have produced sweeping changes in the way companies are organized and do business. For those wondering what the new economy offers the average consumer, Murray, the Washington bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal and coauthor of Showdown at Gucci Gulch, provides a lively and accessible primer that will orient readers confused by rapid changes and those trying to make the new economic conditions work for them. According to Murray, pervasive free-market competitive pressures force companies to court consumers as never before, offering more variety in their products and responding to consumer needs. In addition, easy-to-use methods of comparison shopping on the Internet have given consumers previously unavailable knowledge of prices and a level of bargaining power that approaches that described by classical economist Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations in 1776. If the good news is that consumers are now in charge, the less good news is that to wield their power they must first do their homework. To make the most of that bargaining advantage, Murray has developed a series of handy outlines of the opportunities he sees for personal empowerment in the workplace, education, investing, health care and retirement planning. And although much of what Murray says boils down to common sense ("you should be in a job that makes you feel like you are contributing"), his optimism about consumers' increased choice and bargaining power is infectious. Agent, Bob Barnett. First serial rights sold to the Wall St. Journal and Smart Money; 6-city author tour. (June) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
The "new economy" that Murray describes is one where the power of the individual has been enhanced by the widespread availability of information as embodied by the Internet. Murray, Washington bureau chief of the Wall Street Journal, cautions that with such power comes increased accountability. Hence, he warns that while the new economy allows one to negotiate better prices on airfares, start a business with just a great idea, and even take charge of one's health, poor choices in careers, healthcare providers, and retirement investments are the individual's responsibility. As a primer to the new economy, the book covers investing, paying for education, starting a business, shopping, and handling privacy issues--all in a jargon-free manner. It is loaded with examples and anecdotes from the author's personal life. Entertainingly written, Murray's book is recommended for all public libraries and for academic libraries where the need warrants.--Lawrence R. Maxted, Gannon Univ., Erie, PA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
Books, with their here-it-is-in-black-and-white resistance to modification of any sort, are inherently old economy. This was perhaps a conundrum for Alan Murray in writing The Wealth of Choices, a game attempt at introducing to readers the ever-shifting contours of the new economy. How does one capture a revolution so amorphous as to defy definition?

Murray answers with a book that is itself somewhat amorphous - part memoir, part pep talk and part how-to manual. He engagingly recounts his own transition into a new-economy maven from his undergraduate days at the University of North Carolina to his current position as the Wall Street Journal's Washington bureau chief, and he shares many of his and others' experiences using the decision-making tools of the new economy. Mixed in with those anecdotes are do-it-yourself primers for readers venturing for the first time into the information age.

Murray's tour is informed throughout by the most visible facet of the new economy, the Internet. But the book is by no means about the Internet alone. What really unites the book's elements is the title's conceit; Murray argues that exponentially proliferating information - the wealth of choices - is shifting power from businesses to consumers across the board. As Murray writes, technology has made possible an economy that "puts power in the hands of the people by 1) vastly expanding their choices; 2) vastly increasing the abundance, quality and usefulness of the information they have at their disposal; and 3) forcing business to compete to please them." From that starting point, Murray lays the ground rules for smart consumer decision-making in every sector of the new economy - from educating your children to buying a car to developing, in Tom Peters' immortal phrasing, "the brand called You."

Clearly, the primary audience for the book is not savvy Internet CEOs or upstart MBAs. Murray is writing for regular people stuck somewhere between the economies and confused by the buzzwords of those closer to the cutting edge. With the aid of his research assistant, Keith Perine (now a Washington bureau reporter for The Standard), Murray scoured articles and Internet posts for case studies to illustrate his theories. In a more personal example, Murray recounts his frustration when his father contracted a severe infection while recovering from cancer-related surgery. Although his father survived the incident, Murray wishes he could have more easily found information on the hospital's infection rates, and he suggests that in the new economy, educated consumers would force such changes in medical disclosure.

As a Wall Street Journal editor, Murray's greatest expertise is obviously in the area of economic issues, and to his credit, the book touches on the numerous economic advantages of the information age without getting bogged down in terminology and far-fetched statistics.

While Murray admits his book is only a starting point, he could have enhanced its scope by delving into the multiple new-economy negatives mentioned only in the final pages. He gives short shrift to America's widening income gap, for example, and sidesteps the relative dearth of choices available to those without access to new-economy tools. In failing to provide the sort of revealing stories he found in every other sector, Murray missed an opportunity to make a real impact by suggesting ways to involve all consumers in the new economy, not just those with an Internet appliance in their kitchen.

Product Details

Crown Publishing Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
1 ED
Product dimensions:
6.44(w) x 9.57(h) x 0.96(d)

Read an Excerpt

Not My Father's Economy

My first foray into national journalism came in 1976, when Life magazine invited me to write a brief essay for a special edition about youth in America. Then a junior at the University of North Carolina, and still very much an adolescent, I took the opportunity to complain about my father:

When I first came to the university, my father sent me packets of articles from The Wall Street Journal and Fortune magazine that praised the virtues of free enterprise. Someone had told him that all college professors had socialist tendencies, and that many were outright Marxists, Maoists, or both.

I thought of that article in October of 1998, while flying home to Chattanooga, Tennessee, to attend my father's funeral. His fear for me in those days had been that I was part of a lost generation. We had missed the character-building hardships of the Great Depression, and as a result, we would never fully appreciate the value of the dollar and never understand the power of the market economy — or, as the title of one free-market tribute he sent me called it, The Incredible Bread — Making Machine. The nation and the world, he worried, were headed toward some sort of inevitable socialist decline. And the way would be led by his son, who preferred poetry to physics.

How surprised he must have been at the way things turned out. During the last year of his life, confined to his bed with cancer, he took comfort in tuning the television to CNBC and seeing me, with stock market quotes streaming across my chest, the Dow Jones average planted firmly on my shoulder, and the words The Wall Street Journalnestled just below my chin.

But he must have been even more surprised to see how the world changed in that last quarter-century of his life. There was no socialist decline, no creeping expansion of the welfare state. Instead, just the opposite happened. The incredible bread-making machine proved more pervasive, more powerful, more incredible than he or anyone else could have imagined back in 1976.

The triumph of capitalism is, by now, a well-known story. British prime minister Margaret Thatcher and President Ronald Reagan heralded in a revitalization of the market economies of the West, while Soviet prime ministers Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin signaled the end of communism. The dramatic collapse of the Berlin Wall allowed the triumphant doctrine to spill over into every corner of the globe, with only a handful of people out of its powerful reach. The global financial crisis of the late 1990s underscored the darker side of markets and prompted some ponderous reevaluations of the free-market faith, but produced no substitutes. Today, the entire world agrees with my father: capitalism, whatever its faults, beats the alternatives.

Less widely appreciated, however, is just how profoundly the American economy has changed in those same two decades. No barbed-wire-laced concrete walls needed to fall here, and no arrogant tyrants needed toppling. No hidebound central-planning bureaucracies were dismantled. Yet the changes here, while less heralded, were no less revolutionary; perhaps even more so.

Consider what life was like just one generation ago. Sure, if you wanted to buy breakfast cereal, the market gave you options. But in other ways, markets were limited, and choices restrained. On Lookout Mountain, where I grew up, our electricity was provided by one company, the Electric Power Board, and our phone service, like every other American's, came courtesy of Ma Bell. When we were sick, we went to the family doctor and we bought medicine from the neighborhood druggist. And if we were very sick, we went to the local hospital — no choices necessary. Television options were limited to UHF and VHF; banks were open from nine to three.

Airline fares were fixed at levels far higher than even affluent folks like us could easily afford. So when we traveled, we took the car — a station wagon purchased at Andy Trotter's Pontiac. When the car broke down, which it often did, my father turned red in the face and let loose a string of curses that would end with a threat to "take this car and drive it right into Andy Trotter's swimming pool." It never occurred to me to ask why he kept buying cars from the cursed Mr. Trotter. The answer was obvious: Mr. Trotter was the only Pontiac dealer in town, and General Motors made the only affordable station wagon.

It was a simpler time. Fewer choices meant less complexity, less confusion. Businesses were more likely to treat their workers like family. Wages weren't allowed to diverge too much, for fear of creating rivalry in the company. Employment was often for life. Things were stable, comfortable, and predictable.

But that world was a far cry from the picture of a competitive economy portrayed in The Incredible Bread-Making Machine, or in any economic textbook. And it was a far, far, far cry from where we are today.

Today, the basic market principles of competition and choice have swept into every aspect of American life. Consumers face a bewildering array of choices not just for cereal, but for air travel, phone service, medical care, even postal service. In parts of the country, home owners have begun choosing from a menu of companies for their electricity. Health care has undergone a radical market-driven transformation, and education is following not too far behind. If you want to buy a car today, you start by going on the Internet and shopping for the best price available at any dealership within a thousand miles. The same goes for countless other consumer products.

Companies that seemed like unshakable behemoths a generation ago now fight like scrappy entrepreneurs against foreign firms and ever-emerging domestic competitors. Vast fortunes are made, literally overnight. Workers have become free agents, shifting jobs frequently and feeling little loyalty to their employers, who show little loyalty in return.

The world has gotten smaller; competition has gotten more intense; choices have become more plentiful.

Meet the Author

Alan Murray is the Washington bureau chief of The Wall Street Journal, a columnist for SmartMoney magazine, and a twice-daily commentator on CNBC, analyzing trends in business, politics, and economics. He is the author, with Jeffrey Birnbaum, of Showdown at Gucci Gulch. He lives in Washington, D.C.

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