For most people, the Great Crash of 2008 has meant troubling times. Not so for those in the flourishing poverty industry, for whom the economic woes spell an opportunity to expand and grow. These mercenary entrepreneurs have taken advantage of an era of deregulation to devise high-priced products to sell to the credit-hungry working poor, including the instant tax refund and the payday loan. In the process they've created an industry larger than the casino business and have proved that pawnbrokers and check cashers, if they dream big enough, can grow very rich off those with thin wallets.
Broke, USA is Gary Rivlin's riveting report from the economic fringes. From the annual meeting of the national check cashers association in Las Vegas to a tour of the foreclosure-riddled neighborhoods of Dayton, Ohio, here is a subprime Fast Food Nation featuring an unforgettable cast of characters and memorable scenes. Rivlin profiles players like a former small-town Tennessee debt collector whose business offering cash advances to the working poor has earned him a net worth in the hundreds of millions, and legendary Wall Street dealmaker Sandy Weill, who rode a subprime loan business into control of the nation's largest bank. Rivlin parallels their stories with the tale of those committed souls fighting back against the major corporations, chain franchises, and newly hatched enterprises that fleece the country's hardworking waitresses, warehouse workers, and mall clerks.
Timely, shocking, and powerful, Broke, USA offers a much-needed look at why our country is in a financial mess and gives a voice to the millions of ordinary Americans left devastated in the wake of the economic collapse.
©2010 Gary Rivlin (P)2010 HarperCollins Publishers
"A timely, important, and deeply disturbing look at the cycle of debt of the nation's most vulnerable." (Publishers Weekly)
"This is a powerful analysis, detailing how the financial sector has come to its current state of crisis and including personal stories of some among the millions of working Americans who have been exploited along the way." (Booklist)
This book is about all the business that were built around payday loans, pawn shop loans, credit cards, bounced check fees, subprime mortgages and instant tax refunds. The author interviews numerous business owners and borrowers to get insights into how prevalent, lucrative and damaging these businesses are.
Although written to be a book of what-not-to-do it may well become a guide for those who want to make big money quickly. From the interviews it was readily apparent the market demand and margins were through the roof and a number of the now millionaires were average Joes who hung out a shingle, plowed their earning into opening more stores and made a fortune.
A good part of the book revolves around a few key figures that have been fighting the industry and the small inroads they have made against behemoth money makers that have been purchased by large multi-national banks or had successful IPOs.
Most of this has happened to me, and I was a part of the stuff. I was a business partner and VP for Tobie Mckenzie during this time. One story that Allen Jones forgot to tell, is when he got sent a little white tux sized for a 10yr, with a card saying "Yep, Boss Hogg wantabe jr" The book is a very good read/listen. It was not well received by locals who rely on Jones for business. Never bite the hand that feeds you types. I hope that Allen is exposed for the hypocrite that he is. This book could have been a novel of 5000 pages just on the crap that Allen and "Toby" would do or pull. Anyway if you are a local of Cleveland Tn, get it. If not, get it. Rivlin got all of his facts right.
Understanding the connection between big banks and payday lenders is essential to understanding the scope of the cultural, fiscal and political breakdowns of the past decade.
The book is definitely biased. The money lenders and big banks are bad guys; the class-action lawyers and activists are good guys. I'm curious both about the financial incentives of the good guys as well as the veracity of the bad guys claim that they provide fair and essential services to the working poor. The book never plays devil's advocate and it suffers for it.
The book does, however, thoroughly analyze the tactics used by title loaners, payday lenders, rent-to-own retailers and, yes, large "legitimate" banks to extract what can only be described as punitive fees from the working poor.
No matter how libertarian one's leanings, the sheer magnitude of the so-called "poverty industry" is bracing. Furthermore, the industry's combination of ego, victimhood, righteous indignation and seemingly boundless greed make it difficult to accept as the normal machinations of a completely deregulated free market.
Will Patton, a Carolinian, is both a fantastic actor and capable of authentic Southern drawls.
That the massive success of the poverty industry has influenced trends in "legitimate" business like car dealers, big box retailers and private real estate developers.
The book itself is quite good. It follows an interesting group of people, focussing on one in particular, (Martin Eeks). One especially interesting point the book brings up is that alot of the dodgy practicies that caused this whole mess really were a case of people doing things thats weren't totally wrong (ie sub-prime lending). But were clear cases of businesses in dire need of regulation for their own sake.
The reading of the actual audio is the biggest problem that the book has. For some reason, the producer decided to include accents all the way through. I can totally understand reading accented words and using their words. But entereing into wild accent swings is very hard, jarring and not at all helpful apart from being an obvious attempt to add color. I almost turned the book off when the accents began about 20 minutes in, but managed to percievier. This was a good thing to do, given it ended up being worth the time.
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