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Publisher's Summary

The rich are not only getting richer, they are becoming more dangerous. Starting in the early 1980s the top one percent broke away from the rest of us to become the most unstable force in the economy. An elite that had once been the flat line on the American income charts - models of financial propriety - suddenly set off on a wild ride of economic binges.

Not only do they control more than a third of the country's wealth, their increasing vulnerability to the booms and busts of the stock market wreak havoc on our consumer economy, financial markets, communities, employment opportunities, and government finances.

Robert Frank's insightful analysis provides the disturbing big picture of high-beta wealth. His vivid storytelling brings you inside the mortgaged mansions, blown-up balance sheets, repossessed Bentleys and Gulfstreams, and wrecked lives and relationships:

  • How one couple frittered away a fortune trying to build America’s biggest house - 90,000 square feet with 23 full bathrooms, a 6,000 square foot master suite with a bed on a rotating platform - only to be forced to put it on the market because “we really need the money”.
  • Repo men who are now the scavengers of the wealthy, picking up private jets, helicopters, yachts and racehorses – the shiny remains of a decade of conspicuous consumption financed with debt, asset bubbles, “liquidity events,” and soaring stock prices.
  • How “big money ruins everything” for communities such as Aspen, Colorado whose over-reliance on the rich created a stratified social scene of velvet ropes and A-lists and crises in employment opportunities, housing, and tax revenues.
  • Why California’s worst budget crisis in history is due in large part to reliance on the volatile incomes of the state’s tech tycoons.
  • The bitter divorce of a couple who just a few years ago made the Forbes 400 list of the richest people, the firing of their enormous household staff of 110, and how one former spouse learned the marvels of shopping at Marshalls, filling your own gas tank, and flying commercial.

Robert Frank’s stories and analysis brilliantly show that the emergence of the high-beta rich is not just a high-class problem for the rich. High-beta wealth has national consequences: America’s dependence on the rich + great volatility among the rich = a more volatile America.

Cycles of wealth are now much faster and more extreme. The rich are a new “Potemkin Plutocracy” and the important lessons and consequences are brought to light of day in this engrossing book.

©2011 Robert Frank (P)2011 Tantor

Critic Reviews

"The High-Beta Rich vividly illustrates how the wealthy and those they employ have become increasingly tied to the vicissitudes of the stock market and the macroeconomy. It is a cautionary tale for all." (Steven Neil Kaplan)

What members say

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  • Nichelle
  • Apopka, FL, United States
  • 11-04-11

Sell to the Classes, Join the Masses

This books is full of lots of interesting riches to rags stories, but it also explains why it's better to have a middle class driven economy than a richistan driven economy. Politicians need to quit worshipping the rich and read this book, and then they need to pass a law that caps all political contributions at $500 or less.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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high beta read

Robert Frank is the wealth reporter for the WSJ, where he writes the wealth blog, and is also the author of the 2008 book Richistan. Reading The High-Beta Rich is good fun, as who doesn't like to hear about former billionaires reduced to cleaning their own toilets and shopping at Marshalls. Frank hangs The High-Beta Rich on both stories and data, and he is a good story-teller.

The underlying data story is the degree to which the income, and therefore spending, of the wealthy fluctuates. Today's rich are different from the previous wealthy class, as most of the recent big fortunes were made by way of financial manipulation as opposed to the traditional route of building a company over many years (or through inheritance). The formerly mega-wealthy that Frank profiles made their millions (or billions) by borrowing large sums of money, and as often as not investing this borrowed money in overpriced real estate development schemes. As quickly as the sub-prime bubble burst, they were forced to lay-off the armies of butlers and private chefs that they had accumulated during the financial and housing bubble. The fallout of the rapid declines in the wealth of many previous top-earners is not however limited to the yacht and mansion set, as many municipalities (read Aspen) and employees (read most of us), have grown to depend on the tax dollars and spending of the rich. Turns out, an economy based on rich people is a volatile economy indeed.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Gabe
  • Norwalk, CT, United States
  • 12-13-11

A great follow-up to Richistan

This book was a very interesting and entertaining follow-up to Richistan. The audio is very clear and the listening experience is great. From private jet repo men to the rise and fall of America's most lavish lifestyles, it's all very eye opening.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Superficial

This book wasn’t for you, but who do you think might enjoy it more?

No one

What could Robert Frank have done to make this a more enjoyable book for you?

Better research.

How could the performance have been better?

Better content.<br/>

You didn’t love this book... but did it have any redeeming qualities?

Not really.

Any additional comments?

It was too superficial. Needs to have been better researched and more in depth.

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TERRIBLE NARRATOR!!!

The book was interesting, but the narrator was HORRIBLE. Almost no inflection in his voice made things just run together into a long string, which made it hard to follow after a while.

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Pretty entertaining Book, I enjoyed it.

It was quite an insight to life of High-Beta rich (as Robert Frank calls them) I didn't really know, far from the world of reality TV we all aware of . This was the best book to see the wealthy in true form.