Pound Foolish, by Helaine Olen, published 2013:
I just finished this and I thought it was great: well written, entertaining, and informative. She takes apart the financial services industry and the premise put forth by gurus such as Suze Orman and Dave Ramsey that all of our money problems are our own fault. Olen's thesis is that systemic issues in the economy are much more pervasive than many Americans gives them credit for and the decreasing safety net/increasing income inequality is more responsible for our financial woes as a nation than things like the "latte factor".
Where the book really resonated with me, however, was when she started outlining the issues with the 401(k) system for privatizing retirement. As it stands, the system puts too much emphasis on personal responsibility for one's own saving and (much more troubling) is so deregulated and flat-out crooked that it is fleecing the American employee with fees and unnecessarily complicated products.
My husband and I read a lot of books about investing. I come from a family of stock-brokers/millionaire investors who have given me good advice over the years. We've never been taken in by things like variable annuities, whole life insurance, or mutual funds with outrageous fees. For us it's been Vanguard and TSP all the way, well-diversified assets, careful frugality and saving, and pretty reliable wealth-building.
BUT we have the benefit of a lot of background information, fairly high-paying jobs, two master's degrees, and families that conditioned us to save. Even our friends who are similarly educated and privileged do not seem to have the same degree of knowledge and saving discipline that we do (we ran a Dave Ramsey class last year and were shocked at some of the poor financial decisions they had made/were making).
The worst part, in my opinion, about the 401(k) thing is that those compounding interest tables are put forth with such dogmatic certainty--Look! The power of compounding compels you! Look how much money you'll have if you just invest in the stock market early enough in your life! And yet...how can anyone be so sure? The stock market is (in my opinion) the best thing we have for retirement investing, but it is much less fool-proof than people like Dave Ramsey make it seem.
Mustachianism is a boot-strap philosophy and in a lot of ways that's incredibly empowering. As Canadians/Americans/Western Europeans we live in a highly advantageous and economically prosperous time/place in history, and I actually agree that the majority of households in this context ARE "exploding volcanoes of wastefulness".
But how much of money failure is the exploding volcano, and how much of it is the systemic problems this book talks about?