Tag Archives: college

A Story Of Student Loans

It’s time for the annual “College is too expensive! Graduates are in too much debt!” campaign, coupled with a policy aimed at getting Millennials to the polls in November reducing student loan debt.

To help you make sense of this issue, here’s a quick history of student loans in the US.

A fraction of high school graduates: We will work summers and go to college.
Colleges: We’ll charge 100.
A larger fraction of high school graduates: Hm, college graduates make a lot of money. We, too, shall go to college.
Colleges: Hm. More demand for our limited spots. We’ll charge 200.
High school graduates: College doubled in price. We’ll have to borrow some money against our future earnings, but it’s still worth it.
Colleges: Oh, they can borrow money. We’ll charge 400.
Government: College quadrupled in price. We should make it more affordable. Let’s make it easier and cheaper to get loans.
High School Graduates: We can borrow more easily, but it’s still worth it.
Colleges: Now everyone can borrow and pay us. We’ll charge 800.
Government: College costs and student debt is rising. Let’s make it easier to get loans.
High school graduates: College is expensive, but worth it, so we’ll borrow money. Anyone can.
Colleges: Anyone can borrow money now, so we can charge 1600.
Government: College costs and student debt is rising. Let’s make it easier to get loans.
High school graduates: College is expensive, but worth it, so we’ll borrow money. Anyone can.
Colleges: Anyone can borrow money now, so we can charge 3200.
Government: College costs and student debt is rising. Let’s make it easier to get loans.
High school graduates: College is expensive, but worth it, so we’ll borrow money. Anyone can.
Colleges: Anyone can borrow money now, so we can charge 6400.
Government: College costs and student debt is rising. Let’s make it easier to get loans.
High school graduates: College is expensive, but worth it, so we’ll borrow money. Anyone can.
Colleges: Anyone can borrow money, so we can charge 12800.
Government: College costs and student debt is rising. Let’s make it easier to get loans. High school graduates: Almost everyone is going to college, and it’s so easy to borrow to finance. Must be worth it!
Colleges: So much demand, and they can all borrow lots of money! We’ll charge 25600.
Government: College costs are skyrocketing! Let’s guarantee all student loans so that everyone can borrow, and schools get paid even if they default!
Way too many high school graduates: We’ll borrow and go to college and then make enough money to pay it all back.
Economy (aside): No you won’t.
Colleges: So…now everyone can borrow money, and if they default the government will pay their loan? What’s our downside, exactly? We’ll charge 38,000.
TO BE CONTINUED

Causes Of And Solutions To Grade Inflation, Part 2

In my last post, I posited some explanations for grade inflation at elite colleges in recent years and decades, and mentioned that this poses an information problem for employers and graduate schools. There are other costs as well: it drives students to take easier classes rather than better classes, making students less productive than they otherwise would have been. It’s hard to calculate what these costs are, but it’s safe to say that this is a bad thing.

Here, I propose a simple solution that addresses both the information problem and the selection problem. It’s based on several stats that are used in baseball analysis to compare players from different eras.

Within-School Inflation

I ‘ll use as an example a statistic called OPS+, though virtually any stat in baseball can be adjusted this way. OPS is a stat that combies two other stats, On-Base Percentage (OBP) and Slugging Percentage (SLG). (Yes, it adds unlike quantities. Deal with it.). This stat is designed to measure offensive production by batters. Because offense varies over time, comparing players from different eras can’t be done straight up. Steroid era stats don’t compare to dead ball era stats in any meaningful way: league-average OBP was .345 at the peak of the former and under .300 at the bottom of the latter. To compare two, eras, OPS+ compares a player’s percentages to the league averages and then creates an index that lets you compare players from different eras, with 100 indicating “league average” and higher numbers indicating better seasons. The formula is this:

OPS+ = 100 x (OBP/lgOBP+SLG/lgSLG-1)
(where lgOBP and lgSLG indicate league average for the statistic)

This translates well to calculating GPAs for people who took different classes (for now, let’s stay within the same college.) For a particular student who took classes 1 and 2, the formula would be:

GPA+ = 100 x [(GP1/clGPA1+GP2/clGPA2)/(number of classes)]
(where clGPA1 and clGPA2 indicate class average values in classes 1 and 2)(we also have to adjust for the fact that these aren’t rate stats, hence the difference)

Let’s say the student got a B in each class. His GPA would be 3.0. His GPA+, however, would depend on what grades other people in the same classes received. If the average grade in each class was a C, then:

GPA+ = 100 x [(3.0/2.0+3.0/2.0)/2] = 150

This tells us that the student did 50% better than the average students in two hard clases. Comparatively, if the average grade were a Harvard A-:

GPA+ = 100 x [(3.0/3.7+3.0/3.7)/2] = 81

In this case, the student did 19% worse than the average student in two gut classes. Now expand this to every student for every class, and list their GPA+ on their transcript. (Perhaps it’d be useful to provide the average grade for each class next to the grade the student attained.) Now anyone reading the transcript has a far better measure of whether the student did well in easy classes or challenged him/herself, with the appropriate hit to the GPA. This also removes the incentive to take easy classes only, since a hard class will reflect itself in an appropriately low denominator.)

School Quality

The above changes will permit comparisons of students at the same school that take different course loads. This is helpful to a degree, and it lets students take classes they need rather than classes they want, but it doesn’t solve the problem of comparing students from different schools. Of course, the current system doesn’t really do that either, and I don’t think it’s a huge problem for people to differentiate between graduates from Stanford and Idaho State (no disrespect to the Bengals).

That issue is solved in OPS+ by adjusting for park effects – certain parks are smaller, others have better backgrounds, still others have wind that blows out more frequently, so some parks are easier to hit in than others. Park effects are calculated by comparing runs a team scores at home and runs they score on the road, and using the ratio between the two to calculate the park effects. This is difficult to accomplish in colleges, since so few students take similar classes at more than one school, but an interested party could still get additional information. For example, a particular employer or graduate school could track how graduates of different schools with similar GPAs turn out as employees or doctoral candidates. If Stanford engineers are 20% more productive at your company than Idaho State engineers of the same GPA, then you should give Stanford applicants an implicit 20% boost in GPA relative to ISU applicants.

With enough data, you can generate these ratios for many schools, and even for particular fields. Park effects can be calculated separately for, say, home runs (which benefit from small parks) and triples (which benefit from large parks and unusual design), or even for left-handers and right-handers. One could imagine calculating separately the implicit differences between Stanford English majors, ISU English Majors, Stanford math majors, and ISU math majors applying to your program.

Of course, few organizations will get enough data to figure this out,* since much output can’t be measured well enough to compare graduates, and you need large sample sizes to make meaningful conclusions. This would be difficult to put together from existing data sets, too, so most likely industries would have to combine data for this to work. Considering the up-front costs, the uncertain benefits, and the collective action problems inherent in rivals working together, I’m not sure we’ll any such analysis any time soon. I wouldn’t definitely say no, though, as identifying market inefficiencies and recruiting talent are going to matter more and more.

*Except the NSA.

Causes Of And Solutions To Grade Inflation, Part 1

The *spit* Harvard Crimson reported this week that the “median grade at Harvard College is an A-, and the most frequently awarded mark is an A.” This was a concern among elite colleges a decade ago when I was still in college, and apparently it’s still a story. My thoughts about this haven’t changed in that decade, so I’ll repeat them both here. First, partial explanations for grade inflation. I’ll follow up with a simple solution to the information problem created by grade inflation.

First, why is there grade inflation? Well, students want higher grades, and colleges give them, but of course students wanted higher grades in 1950, too, and didn’t get them. What changed?

First, the women. Princeton, in my time there, capped A’s at 35% of grades in any class in an attempt to recreate the grade distribution it had in the 1960s before grade inflation really took off. They seem to have forgotten that women started attending Princeton around 1970 and are now about half the student body. Replacing the bottom half of male admits with higher qualified female was obviously going to increase GPAs if nothing else changed.

Second, the others. I’m lumping here foreign applicants as well as students who previously did not apply to or attend elite schools: certain minorities or low-income students. International applications have increased significantly, especially from India and China, putting even more qualified candidates in play for a basically stable number of spots.

Third, the basically stable number of spots. While Princeton has added significantly to their undergraduate student body in the past decade, the total number of new students is still around 400, and the total number of spots in the Ivies and quasi-Ivies hasn’t increased very much. Meanwhile, population has increased big time, both here and abroad, so the top college are skimming the top off a bigger pool of applicants.

Fourth, self-selection. This is an issue within schools rather than between schools. Students have a wider choice of classes they can take, and so naturally gravitate to thinks where they can do better. (I shudder to think of how many people I knew who refused to take interesting classes because “that professor gives Cs!”) Most schools have some basic requirements, though they usually require that a class or two be taken in a department, giving you some leeway in choosing which one, and often providing “Physics For Poets” or “Rocks For Jocks” to make fulfilling these requirements easier. It’s not surprising that engineering (followed by math and science) departments have lower GPAs within schools, as their requirements are more objective and more extensive than most others.

Combine these factors, and, ceteris paribus, you will get rising GPAs within schools. I don’t think it explains all of the increase in average GPAs over the past few decades, but I think it explains some, perhaps most of it. My guess is that there is a bit of a spiral among top schools that compete for the same talent pool: by being easier with grades, you attract a few more qualified people than the other schools in your tier, who then have to match, which causes someone else to ease up even more, and so on until everyone has an A. Obviously, these vastly inflated grades become worthless to graduate schools and employers. I’m slightly surprised that employers haven’t exerted any pressure to reduce grade inflation, but considering that the employers are many and the schools are few, there is a classic collective action problem here: why risk reputation and spend money to pressure schools to be more accurate in their grading when the benefit will also go to your rivals for free? Thus, we end up with Harvard, where all the children are above average, and they won’t hesitate to remind you.

In my next post, I’ll propose a simple solution to the grade inflation problem AND justify to my parents the many hours I have spent on baseball.

Yoffe Replies To Her Critics

As a final piece to, Emily Yoffe responded to her critics today. The whole piece is worth reading, if you’ve been following the debate, but here’s a key excerpt:

Many others said I should have written a piece not focusing on women, but on men, who, after all, are the rapists. I did note in the story the importance of rape education—especially teaching young men and women what consent means and that a highly intoxicated woman can’t give it. But I agree with critics that the education of men is an important issue and I should have hit it harder. However, the argument went beyond that to declare that when it comes to sexual assault, women’s behavior is a verboten topic and the only thing to discuss is men. Many said college women don’t need to change their drinking habits—what has to change is a male culture of sexual entitlement. No doubt that culture should change, but at best it will do so slowly and incompletely. In the meantime, this weekend, some young, intoxicated women will wake up next to guys they never wanted to sleep with. I believe it’s worth talking about how keeping within a safe drinking limit can potentially help young women avoid such situations.

Slate Redux, And Victim-Blaming In Particular

Shortly after Emily Yoffe’s column posted yesterday, Twitter and Facebook went pretty crazy, and, given the circles I am in, most of them were angrily anti-Yoffe. The arguments, focused on two basic areas, one of which makes sense but hardly warrants vitriol, and one of which I still don’t understand.

The first is the usual call to focus on the perpetrators, not the victims. One particularly interesting piece rewrites Yoffe’s column to call on young men to stop getting drunk, as alcohol has been shown to be associate with the commission of sexual crimes. It’s an excellent point, one that Yoffe merely touched upon, and it’s certainly an important part of rape prevention. (From my own college experience, it’s also taught to most freshmen as soon as they arrive.) The fact that Yoffe’s column focuses on another part of rape prevention (namely, women protecting themselves) doesn’t mean she’s saying this other part of prevention deserves no attention or resources. (In fact, her column calls for binge drinking in general to be curbed further.) It’s fair to disagree on which of the methods is more effective and more important, but it’s silly to argue that emphasizing one particular part of a big picture means that others aren’t important. (To continue yesterday’s example, I counsel people against going to the south side of Chicago, but that doesn’t mean I don’t also want them to avoid most of Detroit.)(Or Syria.)

The second, louder part of the response to Yoffe was that she blaming the victim or denying the reality of rape. I’ve never been particularly clear on the concept that a victim might be at fault for whatever happened to them, but based on some all-capped Facebook posts, it seems that the position is this: By saying that women can reduce the risk of being raped by not drinking (or other behaviors, like dressing provocatively), this means that women who drink and are raped are at fault for letting happen, since they could have avoided the rape by not drinking. (If anyone reads this differently, let me know.) I suppose the difficulty for me is making the leap that someone who doesn’t take every precautionary measure is somehow “at fault” for violence done to them. I understand that this is particularly sensitive issue with regards to rape, a crime that’s difficult to prove because there are no witnesses (usually) and determining the facts tends to become a he said/she said affair (in which, 80% of the time, he or she or both were drunk). I still don’t understand who would blame a person for being raped – as I said yesterday, and as Yoffe points out, the blame for sexual crime always falls on the perpetrator and never the victim. Neither legal nor moral fault of the rapist is reduced by his victim’s actions. While I can understand that some people viscerally respond to something like that by saying “well, she shouldn’t have gotten drunk,” and perhaps some of those people even consider the victim at fault, I don’t, and Yoffe doesn’t. And lumping us all together does a disservice to the ultimate goal, which I hope is “having no rapes anywhere ever.”

Getting drunk or going to a dangerous neighborhood aren’t immoral actions, and in a perfect world, women could do all of those things without risk. In the real world, they are at higher risk of being raped when they are drunk. Castigating someone who points out this reality and advises women to protect themselves isn’t just stupid, it’s counter-productive. Just because women SHOULD be able to get drunk with impunity doesn’t mean that they CAN. And just because a woman could have lowered the risk of being the victim of a crime doesn’t mean she’s at fault. It means, however, that a future potential victim can learn from that event. Otherwise, a tragic event becomes even more tragic.

PS: Megan McArdle, my intellectual crush, backs Yoffe, and even mirrors some of my own arguments (be still my heart):

it would be lunatic to tell them it’s fine to act as if our neighborhood right now is as safe as I hope it someday will be. And realistically, telling my guests where it’s safe to walk is more likely to be effective than telling the muggers that what they’re doing is wrong. I can press for more police patrols and vote on the issue of crime, but at the moment when a guest gets up to leave, I also need to tell them how to be safe.

[Here I swoon, intellectually.]

Alcohol & Rape: An Intra-Slate Battle

Dueling articles regarding binge drinking and rape appeared on Slate today, an original piece by Emily Yoffe and a reply by Amanda Hess. I’m entirely on Yoffe’s side, but let’s go through it anyway because it addresses some interesting issues I’ve been meaning to get to anyway after Serena Williams was criticized for her comments about the Steubenville rape case.  Also, I’ll focus on man-on-woman assaults in this post, even though, once prison is taken into account, more men than women are raped in the US.

Yoffe begins:

In one awful high-profile case after another—the U.S. Naval Academy; Steubenville, Ohio; now the allegations in Maryville, Mo.—we read about a young woman, sometimes only a girl, who goes to a party and ends up being raped. As soon as the school year begins, so do reports of female students sexually assaulted by their male classmates. A common denominator in these cases is alcohol, often copious amounts, enough to render the young woman incapacitated. But a misplaced fear of blaming the victim has made it somehow unacceptable to warn inexperienced young women that when they get wasted, they are putting themselves in potential peril.

And the key paragraph:

Let’s be totally clear: Perpetrators are the ones responsible for committing their crimes, and they should be brought to justice. But we are failing to let women know that when they render themselves defenseless, terrible things can be done to them. Young women are getting a distorted message that their right to match men drink for drink is a feminist issue. The real feminist message should be that when you lose the ability to be responsible for yourself, you drastically increase the chances that you will attract the kinds of people who, shall we say, don’t have your best interest at heart. That’s not blaming the victim; that’s trying to prevent more victims.

As I said, I echo Yoffe’s points. It has always bothered me that a victim of rape immediately becomes immune from criticism that could be used to educate other women. A victim of a rape, or any crime, can take many steps to make the crime more or less likely, and each unfortunate instance of the crime is another data point that can be used to tell us what victims might do to endanger themselves. As Yoffe’s article demonstrates, binge drinking is strongly associated with danger for young women, and with sexual assault in particular. The fact that this is so doesn’t change anything about the culpability of the perpetrator. In fact, a victim’s actions don’t bear on the perpetrator’s in most crimes: walking down a dark alley doesn’t make a mugging somehow okay, and no one would argue that it did. To go to the extreme, if a young woman decided to take a stroll in a maximum security prison yard that is unsupervised by guards, anything that happened to her would be the fault of those that attacked her.

Yet whenever someone (like Serena above) points out that a victim engaged in a behavior that put them at risk, they’re accused of “blaming the victim.” It’s a misguided attempt to protect the feeling of the particular victim while putting many more potential victims at risk. We have learned that certain behaviors (say, binge drinking) or places (south side of Chicago), or even companions, are more dangerous than others. Not pointing this out to protect the feelings of someone who engaged in that behavior or went to such a place simply prevents other women from learning how to take care of themselves. Obviously we should minimize the harm to rape victims, but if we’re trying to minimize the harm to rape victims, the best way to do it is to minimize the number of rapes. In this case, doing what’s best for victims overall may not be what’s best for a particular victim, but I think all reasonable people would agree that preventing rapes is more important.

Amanda Hess is not reasonable. Starting:

Telling women that they can evade rape by not drinking will only exacerbate that problem [of women feeling guilty and shameful] when it does happen, through no fault of their own. One victim of alcohol-assisted rape Yoffe spoke with said that she was overwhelmed with “shame and guilt” following the assault, and only began to come to terms with the crime when “I realized it wasn’t my fault.”  That realization felt like climbing out of a “deep, dark hole.” Victims should never be put in that hole in the first place—no matter how many drinks they’ve consumed. [Emphasis added.]

Hess probably doesn’t mean that the only effect of pointing out when a victim engaged in dangerous behaviors is that they’ll feel worse about themselves, but her sentence constructions (and her article) make you think that that’s all that matters. She refuses to acknowledge that “telling women that they can evade rape by not drinking” will also lower the incidence of rape. If that effect is large, as it probably would be, given campus rape statistics, perhaps some hurt feelings in the short run are worth it.

Hess continues with an excellent Nirvana fallacy:

Rape is a societal problem, not a self-help issue. Parents can tell their own daughters not to get drunk, but even if those women follow instructions, it won’t keep other people’s daughters safe. It will just force campus rapists who rely on alcohol to execute their crimes to find other targets.

Yes, rape is a societal problem, but it obviously ALSO a self-help issue. Parents teaching their daughters to avoid dangerous behaviors aren’t protecting other people’s daughters, but it should count for something that they’re protecting their own child. And yes, sexual predators who lose one source of “prey” will move on to something else, but surely it’s a good thing that the victim pool is smaller and their crimes are more difficult. This should

Colleges can start changing those structures by refusing to put the onus on victims to prevent their own assaults, and instead holding perpetrators accountable for the crimes they commit—often, while drunk.

The latter part is obviously true. Many have even argued that universities have gone too far in going after alleged rapists while they’re still merely alleged, but never mind that now. The former part is an excellent strawman that is easily knocked down: yes, universities bear some responsibility for protecting their students, but students bear some responsibility for their own safety. Reminding them that some of their own behaviors are dangerous isn’t putting the onus on them any more than pointing out that pizza is fattening for students fighting the freshman fifteen.

In a perfect world, yes, a woman should be able to get blackout drunk in a fraternity basement and go home unharmed. That doesn’t mean that women should act like they live in a perfect world. Hess seems to be under the impression that girls protecting themselves somehow undermines the quest for this perfect world. Yoffe and I disagree. That doesn’t mean we don’t want to live in such a world.

Movin’ On Up, Or Not

Richard V. Reeves of the Brookings Institution writes about the decline of mobility in American Society, in particular the tendency for the upper classes to “hoard” opportunities for their children. While he’s right in principle about certain aspects of “hoarding,” I think his focus is misplaced, and he misses a couple of key things.

First things first: “The Glass Floor” is a terrible title. A ceiling limits how high you can rise. A floor limits how low you can fall. The far better meaning for “glass floor,” one I thought I had invented until I googled it, refers to the institutions that historically protect women from the worst things in life, like military service, dangerous work, and prison time. (Detailed here in someone else’s angry, angry article.)

But let’s get to the substance:

It is important to be clear what we are talking about. There are two distinct kinds of intergenerational mobility. Absolute mobility is a measure of whether a person is financially better off than his or her parents were at the same age.

Relative mobility, in contrast, is a measure of which rung of the income ladder a person lands on, compared with his or her parents’ position. If everyone made twice what their parents did, everyone is upwardly mobile, in absolute terms — but since their rank position on the income ladder is the same as their parents’, relative mobility would be zero.

We can improve rates of upward absolute mobility by simply expanding the economy. But improving rates of upward relative mobility from the bottom comes with a sting in the tail: it requires more downward mobility from the top.

Reeves focuses on relative mobility, but never justifies why this is the more important focus. As long as people are free and are getting richer and healthier, as we generally are, why does it matter that the rank order doesn’t change much? Put another way, do you think a poor country would prefer to, say, double its income, or to have countries ahead of it become more impoverished than themselves? I think it’s pretty clear that absolute improvements in quality of life are far more important than relative ranks. That said, humans do care about their relative position in life, and relative mobility plays an important role in motivating people to succeed. Perhaps more importantly, relative mobility is a useful signal of whether the process by which these ranks are generated are fair, or at least perceived as fair. It’s important that market and government institutions earn the trust of the population, and relative mobility is a way to assess whether the process if rigged or meritocratic. It’s not a slam-dunk, of course – a fair process can give rise to little relative mobility. In fact, this is the major possibility Reeves neglects (more on that later). Let’s read on:

The problem comes if institutional frameworks in, say, the higher education system or the labor market are distorted in favor of the powerful — a process the sociologist Charles Tilly labeled “opportunity hoarding.” The less talented children of the affluent are able to defy social gravity and remain at the top of the ladder, reducing the number of places open to those from less fortunate backgrounds. …

… Harvard accepts 30 percent of these “legacy” applicants, compared to a 6 percent overall rate.

Of course, most graduates of schools like Harvard feed into the affluent strata of society, and are able to immerse their children in extracurricular activities and test prep classes. So their children will be clustered among the top end of the applicant pool.

The sophisticated reader will notice a major omission in the last paragraph: genetics. Smart people tend to go to elite colleges. Smart people also tend to marry other smart people – often smart people they meet at those elite colleges. Smart people also tend to have smart children. As a result, elite college graduates tend to have children who are desirable candidates for elite colleges. This explains far more of Harvard’s legacy acceptance rate than test prep courses. Such courses, and the resume-enriching activities that those kids get, helps at the margins, of course, against similarly bright students from poorer households. But it’s undeniable that children of Harvard grads are more likely to be Ivy League material than children in general.

Acknowledging genetics creates a big problem for people like Reeves: it means that a fair process CAN generate very little relative mobility. In a meritocratic world, heredity implies that the children of the smart are more likely to be at the top. Heredity isn’t perfect, so there would still be some changes, but in the long run, a relatively stable social order of intellectual castes could, and is likely to, emerge. This is a problem because there is no easy solution: the process (as I stipulated it, not in reality) that generates the outcome is fair by most people’s values.

Reeves ignores this complication and also doesn’t pay enough attention to the actual obstacles to a more meritocratic world with more relative mobility. The real obstacles aren’t test prep courses and lacrosse camps for the children of the rich, the real obstacles is the increased complexity of daily life. Regulation is way up, credentialism is way up, and the government bureaucracy frustrates all who come into contact with it. Lawyers, regulators, and academics play ever larger roles in the design of our institutions, with the result that the institutions are shaped to favor lawyers, regulators, academics, bureaucrats, and people similar to them. This new world is far easier to manage with the resources and connections of those at the top than at the bottom. The ridiculous American tax code, with its deductions and credits, tends to favor those who can afford advice, or who are just naturally better at handling this complexity. In a world where poor smart high school students are deterred from getting into better colleges by application fees, relative mobility won’t be improved by the introduction of a complicated insurance system. Middle-class and upper-class people won’t have much trouble navigating a giant new bureaucracy; it’s the lower classes who get left behind.

The tripwire of complexity is one that can and should be reduced. It’ll make the world a slightly fairer and more meritocratic place and, combined with a bigger role for the market (more on that later – this post is already too long), ultimately a better place.

*I tried not to make this post personal, but for full disclosure, I’ve made both an absolute and a relative jump in my lifetime, getting into an Ivy League college, a top-20 law school, and a top ten law firm. One data point doesn’t disprove a hypothesis, but it informs my thinking. Feel free to assign me any biases you see fit.

Book Review: Mergers & Acquisitions

Published in 2007 at the height of the housing bubble, Dana Vachon’s Mergers & Acquisition may have had the worst or best timing. The promised “inside” view of Wall Street and the men and women who inhabit it, combined with a heaping of disdain for such people, probably appealed to a lot of people in the wake of the financial crisis. Unfortunately, Vachon’s portrayal is so lazy and shallow, I can’t imagine it satisfied anyone but the most hardcore members of the occupy movement.

The plot, to the extent that it matters, circles around Tommy Quinn, a college grad who, despite his best efforts, ends up as an investment banker at J.S. Spenser. Quinn tells us all about this new world, stopping just short of spitting on everyone he describes. This includes not just the spoiled trust fund babies or the pointlessly evil executives, but also people who simply work hard at something that Vachon/Quinn find unimportant. The character admits repeatedly to not understanding how investment banking works, only to look down on the people who do the job. (I don’t want to get into a discussion of the importance of proper allocation of capital. So I won’t.) The story goes on to give us access, biased as it is, into exclusive country clubs, boardrooms, and billionaire yachts, loosely hung on a romance that never captures our attention.

The prose of M&A is quick and fun, and it’s probably the best aspect of the book. The pacing is solid, though it’s not helped along by the disjointed plot.

Not really recommended, though it won’t tie you up for long.