NOTE TO VISITORS: The Consumerist Resources Section is being CHANGED. It will read unevenly as copy is added.
(29 Aug 2016)
BRIEFS ON HELPFUL BOOKS TO CONSUMERS
HOW TO SPEAK MONEY: What the Money People Say—And What It Really Means, John Lanchester, W.W. Norton, New York, 2014
John Lanchester is an outstanding British novelist and non-fiction writer. This book starts with a 62 page essay on The Language of Money that reviews ancient and modern ways of hiding truth about money. Then comes A Lexicon of Money, 175 pages that define 292 words. Some are his inventions, others are phrases, acronyms and names whose definitions showing how the money industry insiders think. Of the money-speak words he invents, the headliner is It describes money words we think we know until Lanchester shows how they are redefined. Examples:
reversification. * Several words have opposite meanings when measured by the results of deceitful money management. Profit can turn out to be loss, etc.
synergy Mainly bullshit (his term), as when means merging two companies is the opportunity to sack people. [Page 232 of ebook edition]
supply-side…in practice means “rich people economics” in which the rich get tax breaks and spend money…that “trickles-down” through the economy and everyone benefits. If that was going to work, you’d think it would have kicked in by now. [Pp. 228-9]
Lanchester’s research is extensive, his background helpful (was the son of a British banking employee in Hong Kong) and his language is in the finest traditions of English wit and satire. To use an 18th Century phrase, his book will “teach and delight.” In 21st Century usage, it will clarify and alarm. If you suspect the country is headed in the wrong direction, the book will give you yet more reason to believe we are headed for another cliff. He makes the case that those who speak Money learned a comforting lesson from the 2008 hits to the financial system: Why worry? When stuff happens so do taxpayer bailouts. Plus our bets are with other people’s money.
The book concludes with a 35 page Afterword that says we may have time yet to redirect our current path to the next abyss. But the “we” depends on the “them,” as in the new congress and the existing president, which is like hope without action, as in jet without propulsion.
* Google the words reversification consumerist and my August 6 post will pop up with more on Lanchester’s reversification.
THE FILTER BUBBLE, What The Internet Is Hiding From You, Eric Pariser ,Penguin, 2011. To understand the growth of manipulative abuses of consumers by techno-coms such as Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft, this book is a must read. The focus is on the dangers of personalization. The process is reliant upon carefully guarded algorithms (covered up as “trade secrets”) that correlate a consumer’s past behaviors and present friends shown by Internet tracking technologies. The idea is to determine how to construct answers to questions based on the profile of who is asking for information. By doing this one consumer at a time, we move from being targeted as groups of consumers to individual consumers.
But the result is not better service. Instead it is a better chance at a sale of a product or communication of an idea by using images, words and sounds selected on the basis of choices previously made by a consumer on Internet sites and probably with demographic details. How that information is obtained by the techno-coms and how it is used, is none of a consumer’s business—in the view of techno-coms. Example: Google sends two different people—who have asked the same question at the same time—two dramatically different responses, each tailored to a corporate purpose.
The final chapter is not as strong as the preceding chapters. It is not a serious problem: A critic is not required to offer a solution. Those being criticized will try to change the subject–them–to start a conversation about him. As long as he sticks to what is being done to consumers, he is very goodPay attention to Pariser’s explanations of persuasion profiling, the filter bubble, and techno-determinism. Ignore his moral outrage.Before we can attack techno-com abuses, we need to know more about what is being done under the guise of inevitable collateral damages from technology. That is where Eli Pariser shines the light.
There is also a website www.thefilterbubble.com
POORLY MADE IN CHINA: An Insider’s Account of the Tactics Behind China’s Production Game Paul Midler, John Wiley, 2009 The author is a consultant working in Hong Kong who originated the term “quality fade” to describe how products, previously made in America and outsourced to China, can be steadily and stealthily reduced in quality as part of an undisclosed business plan that can turn the outsourcer into a competitor.
His blog is at www.paulmidler.com
JONATHAN MARGOLIS writes technopolis, a single page, illustrated review of high-tech technology products for consumers interested in the latest technological consumer products or an urgent need to conspicuously consume the newest in a wide range of techno-products such as cell phones, speaker systems, computers and portable solar chargers that can be used halfway up Mount Rushmore. He includes a sidebar, Silly Street, for improbable items like a “built-in Bluetooth bone connection. Prices range from under $100 to several thousand bucks.
New columns appear bi-weekly in the splendiferous supplement How To Spend It in the Weekend Edition of The Financial Times, then archived in the “Technology” pull-down of the website www.howtospendit.com.
He thoroughly tries the reviewed products out—and is candid about possibilities and pitfalls. I have purchased as a result of his columns. His descriptions have turned consistently correct and helpful.
(Updated 11 Aug 2014)
LUCY KELLAWAY Her On Work columns appear on Mondays in the Financial Times. In ways that amuse and inform, she describes business life bungling by management. With managers like these, abuse of consumers is no surprise.
JAMES SUROWIECKI His The Financial Page appears twice a month in The New Yorker. He lifts the fog that can envelop financial analysis. If you quote (without attribution) his explanations of current financial fiascos and issues, you will impress people at cocktail parties and probably be hired on the spot as a financial advisor.
JOE NOCERA has been writing about business since 2005 in The New York Times. Recently he was promoted to the Sunday Op-Ed page to replace Frank Rich. He is tough-minded, especially when it comes to the harm lobbyists and congressional committees are attempting to create, either to continue old abuses of consumers or invent new ones.
GAIL COLLINS writes Op-Ed satirical columns. That alone should be reason enough to read her on Thursdays and Saturdays in The New York Times. Many of her columns describe lobbying and other outrages whose collateral damage directly affects consumers but would otherwise go under-reported.
Each is also available online from their respective publishers’ websites, usually the same day as print publication
THE CRANKY CONSUMER Entertaining narratives by different writers on comparative buying quests for unusual products or services. Cranky Consumer columns appear first in the Wall Street Journal’s print edition once or twice a month and are then collected in WSJ’s online service.
For consumerist purposes, what is being shopped for is not as valuable as how the shopping is reported.
Useful Format. The columns use a grid that neatly summarizes key decision elements that emerge from each comparison shop. The grid topics vary with each episode, but essentially are about differences in costs, comments on sellers, variations in “the deal,” and writer’s comments. Consumer adoption of the format would help cut through the confusing array of differing prices and promises for the same product or service.
Unusual Subjects. This year’s columns have pursued voice lessons, calorie cutting, physical workout guidance, and home delivery of farm fresh products. The writers approach the subjects in the spirit of appropriate amusement, further evidence that the shopping adventures of the rich are not as uncomplicated as the non-rich might think.
Past Cranky Consumer columns are available online on the Wall Street Journal’s website.
THE FINANCIAL TIMES ONLINE EDITION covers different industry sectors of interest to consumerists, like www.ft.com/pharmaceuticals with Andrew Jack’s article, “A sugared pill,” about the undercover approach used by pharmaceuticals to promote drugs by giving “incentives” to doctors and professors as “rewards” for their professional support of specific drugs. Cash and trips to exotic places are standard lures to get favorable coverage.
THE MIDDLE SEAT TERMINAL, Scott McCartney, Wall Street Journal Online, a weekly column tilted toward consumer interest at expense of airline corporate management. Keeps travelers alert of airline innovations in abuse of consumers. blogs.wsj.com/middleseat
CREDIT RATING SERVICES: For a reliable, free personal credit report, try www.annualcreditreport.com. One of the three top credit reporting organizations—TransUnion, Equifax and Experian—may have your report.