We review books that deal with everything from financial independence topics to politics, and anything in between. We may sometimes stray into films and music if there is a “Findependence” angle.

The endless glut of Trump books — and now Biden — continues

It’s been awhile since I reviewed any political books here on the Hub. The last time was this time a year ago when I surveyed what were then the latest books on the Trump presidency (at one point in 2021, 3 of the top 6 New York Times bestselling books were on Trump: see here).

I occasionally wade in on this topic on the grounds that investors need to be on top of this seemingly unique political situation. That’s despite the fact that when Trump first won his shock victory in 2016, markets briefly cratered, only to quickly recover.

The particular pair of mini-reviews below has no real financial angle but you can see I explicitly covered that a few years ago in  a MoneySense column that evaluated the implications of the Trump presidency for the Boomers’ collective retirements: see here.

Over the long weekend, I finished reading two recently published books that some may find of interest, whose covers are illustrated on this blog. One is Thank You for Your Servitude, Mark Leibovich’s entertaining summary of all the Republican enablers who made the Trump presidency possible in the first place, and may yet facilitate a dreaded second term. The other is This Will Not Pass [Simon & Schuster) by Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns, subtitled Trump, Biden, and the Battle for America’s Future. The co-authors are both New York Times writers and CNN political analysts, neither known as MAGA-friendly outlets.

Save your money and borrow these from the library

I might add that, despite being an author myself, I generally refuse to buy any of these US political books: I either read ebooks from the Toronto Library’s excellent Libby app, or download ebooks or audio books from the paid SCRIBD service. Libby often involves waiting a few weeks or months for popular bestsellers; however, if you can read quickly, you may be able to luck into the occasional Skip the Line service, which lasts only a single week. SCRIBD sometimes has books not yet on Libby, often in audio format, and unlike the library, you can keep them beyond the normal three-week limit.

There’s been a fair bit of press and YouTube clips on both these books. Formerly with the New York Times, Leibovich is perhaps best known for his bestselling This Town, about 21st century Washington. Thank You for Your Servitude [Penguin Press, New York, 2022] is subtitled Donald Trump’s Washington and the Price of Submission. While the author admits that many of the anecdotes will be all too familiar to anyone following the daily press, he manages to provide a fresh perspective on them while simultaneously apologizing for making readers relive the worst of these moments. Many of them center around Trump’s Washington-based Trump Hotel, which is where the book begins and ends.  There you meet such familiar characters as Rudy Giuliani, Reince Priebus, Kevin McCarthy, Mitch O’Connell, William Barr, Jeff Sessions, Lindsay Graham, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Kellyanne Conway and the whole sordid collection of Trump toadies and sycophants, or the so-called MAGAts.

One early chapter is entitled “The Joke,” which apparently is how even how Trump’s closest enablers seem to view his rise to the top of the political pyramid:

It would be risky, obviously, for a Republican member of Congress to declare, explicitly, that “Donald Trump is a complete ignoramus,” even though that’s what they really believed. But none of this had to be spoken because the truth of this scam, or “joke,” was fully evident inside the club …. Everyone … got the joke.

Covers Ukraine invasion but not January 6th hearings

The book is recent enough that it includes an epilogue about the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February. The book ends on a despairing note of pessimism about the prospects of anyone stopping Trump in 2024. Of course, it was published months before this summer’s high-profile January 6th hearings, nor does he spend much time addressing any of the other multiple investigations into Trump’s businesses and political shenanigans.

The following telling snippet is one of many that may not be widely known. I was struck by the revelation in the epilogue that within a day of Trump’s “Be there, will be wild” tweet promoting the January 6 rally, the cheapest room in the Trump Hotel immediately jumped from US$476 to US$1,999.

Donald Trump didn’t just inspire the Jan. 6 riot … He seems to have made money off it.

That pretty much says it all. Leibovich ends with an ominous foreshadowing of Trump’s possible triumphant return in 2024. His final sentence is “And who’s going to stop him?” A few sentences earlier, he quotes a former Republican congressman who confessed that the party’s only real plan for dealing with Trump in 2024 involved a darkly divine intervention: “We’re just waiting for him to die .. That was it, that was the plan. He was 100 percent serious.”

Can Joe Biden extract the US from its “political emergency?”

Simon & Schuster

Those who are thoroughly sick of Trump — as I am — may find This Will Not Pass more to their liking, as roughly half the content is devoted to Trump’s successor, Joe Biden. The focus is what it describes as the “political emergency in the United States: the story of how the country reached and survived a moment when carrying out the basic process of certifying an election became a mortally dangerous task.”

It recounts how the country “sort of” survived but like Leibovich, leaves readers pretty nervous about what may yet occur in the 2022 mid terms this fall and ultimately in 2024. As Martin and Burns remind us (as if we needed it!):

Donald Trump has not been banished from national life, but instead remains the dominant force in his party and is bent on purging those few Republicans who won’t bow to him … The former president’s delusions about a stolen election … have lingered with corrosive force, warping his own party and catalyzing a wave of red-state voting restrictions aimed at cracking down on election fraud that did not happen. The fantasies of a Trump restoration have only deepened since his departure from the White House.

The book is arranged in three parts: the year before the 2020 election and Trump’s mismanagement of Covid; the tumultuous months between the contested 2020 election and Inauguration Day, and everything that has transpired since:

… As President Biden attempted an acrobatic feat of leadership: pushing a liberal policy agenda of titanic ambition with the thinnest of majorities … Far from quickly erasing the Trump era, leaders in both parties have found the shadow of the last presidency has been longer and darker than they anticipated, colouring every major political decision and legislative negotiation of the Biden administration and shaping even the perceptions of American democracy overseas.

Ambitious, yes: One chapter nicely summarizes the dominant question before Biden as “How Big Can We Go?”

Unlike Servitude, This Will Not Pass was published too soon to cover much of the events of 2022. Oddly, for an American book, it closes with an observation by a Canadian, Bob Rae (at one point Canada’s ambassador to the United Nations.) He calls Trump an “authoritarian … I don’t believe the Republican Party believes in democracy.” And he warned that the threat to American democracy was far from defeated: “America,” he said, “is a very important battleground.”

They Want to Kill Americans

(Added subsequently). There’s a third and even scarier book that I only began to read the day this blog initially was published. They Want to Kill Americans by Malcolm Nance, describes Trump’s brownshirts and the ongoing assault on American democracies by Americans. Here’s a link to Goodreads’ entry on it. And here’s a Kirkus review.


Jonathan Chevreau is Chief Financial Officer of the Financial Independence Hub, author of the financial novel, Findependence Day, co-author of the non-fiction Victory Lap Retirement, and columnist and Investing Editor at Large for 





MoneySense Retired Money: Reboot Your Portfolio book review

My latest MoneySense Retired Money column is a belated review of Dan Bortolotti’s recently published ETF book, Reboot Your Portfolio. You can read the full review by clicking on the highlighted text: The Canadian Book about ETFs that will have you saying eh-t-fs.

The book has already been well reviewed by prominent financial bloggers: for example, early in December the Hub ran this blog by Michael James on Money’s Michael J. Wiener: Do as I say, not as I do. 

As the column notes, MoneySense readers should find the book a nice complement to the MoneySense ETF All-stars feature that I used to write each spring, and which was initially a collaboration between myself and Dan back when we were both full-time MoneySense editorial staff. The 2022 edition ran last week and is now written by Bryan Borzykowski.

Dan’s book is an excellent primer for any aspiring do-it-yourself investor who wants to buy ETFs at a discount brokerage, or someone wanting to create an ETF portfolio with or without the help of a financial advisor like Dan or his employer, PWL Capital.

Since the dawn of Asset Allocation ETFs early in 2018 (starting with Vanguard, soon matched by iShares, BMO and Horizons), it’s now possible to have an entire portfolio consisting of a single ETF. Those who like the traditional pension fund allocation of 60% stocks to 40% bonds could choose VBAL, XBAL or ZBAL, or Horizon’s slightly more equity intensive, HBAL (with a slightly more aggressive 70/30 stocks/bonds mix).

One-decision funds and automatic rebalancing

Bortolotti is quite enthused with these Asset Allocation ETFs, as are most of the other ETF experts in MoneySense’s ETF All-stars feature. One thing he particularly likes about such funds is the automatic rebalancing between asset classes, or at least between the stocks and bonds that most of them hold in varying proportions. As he says in chapter 8 (Keep it in Balance), “There’s a lot of research suggesting that people do better when the rebalancing decision is taken out of their hands.”

The book takes a holistic approach to financial planning and ETF portfolio creation. In fact, he makes a point of not even addressing ETFs until chapter 5, after first covering the need to cease trying to beat the market, set financial goals, determine the right asset allocation and then fine-tuning.

Like most indexing enthusiasts, Bortolotti takes a dim view of such investing sins as market timing and stock picking.   In his chapters on Asset Allocation, Bortolotti does not restrict his readers to strictly ETFs: there may be a place for GICs and high-interest savings accounts. He says many could put half their fixed-income allocation in GICs and use bond ETFs for the other half.

But he does believe that even very conservative and very aggressive investors should have at least some exposure to stocks and bonds; conservative retirees should still have at least 20% in stocks and aggressive stock investors should have at least 20% in bonds. For those between, he is comfortable with their holding the traditional 60/40 portfolio, which has returned between 6 and 7% a year since 1990.
Beyond stocks and bonds, however, Bortolotti is less enthused. He doesn’t recommend commodities like gold and other precious metals, collectibles like rare coins, fine wine and artwork, or even REITs, preferred shares or Real Return Bonds: whether held directly or via ETFs.

When it comes to ETF portfolios, Bortolotti is primarily focused on broadly diversified low-cost ETFs that use traditional market-cap weighting, although he also sees the case for equal-weighted ETFs. But he does not recommend what he calls “narrowly focused” sector or “theme” ETFs. He covers the pros and cons of “smart beta” ETFs, which usually cost more than plain-vanilla ETFs but will at least be cheaper than actively managed mutual funds.

All in all, any MoneySense reader will probably find the combination of Reboot Your Portfolio and the ETF All-Stars as a nice one-two punch for their portfolio.

Promoting the Health of Older Adults: a worthy read for all

By Mark Venning,

Special to the Financial Independence Hub

As an everyday person taking a fast read of the title of the new book – Promoting the Health of Older Adults: The Canadian Experience – you wouldn’t exactly get the sense of what to be surprised by or expect what content would be covered within. In the first place, unfortunately, it’s not likely that this book will make it into the hands of everyday people any time soon.

You might ask, what are we promoting, what’s so specific for older adults – eat a nutritional diet of foods, exercise to stay fit, keep your brain active and get your proper sleep? Isn’t that what anyone through their life course should be doing? Yes, maybe. But that’s not at all exactly what you will get here.

Appreciating focus, as the writers in the preface state, the book’s main purpose is for knowledge building on issues related to older adults and their care, primarily for target audiences such as, “undergraduate and graduate students in gerontology and aging, health promotion… and other fields….” and the five groups identified include, educators, learners, policy makers, researchers and practitioners and leaders working with older adults in civic society organizations.

While that may sound too academic, after reading this book my belief is that the general public of everyday people, older adults and others younger, will also benefit greatly from an education presented here on this important subject. If you do flip through this 600-plus page tome, you might think of it at first as “insider dialogue” on health promotion; but not so fast, don’t put the book down.

Serving to heighten knowledge & awareness to engage in social health dialogue.

Choose as many words as you want; for me, Promoting the Health of Older Adults is a social health dialogue, inclusive for all Canadians – interconnected subject areas, holistic, comprehensive, diverse. The arrival of this book is timely, to promote conversation with friends and family, considering our collective journey through the COVID world to date has heightened our awareness of the workings of our own health and our social and healthcare systems.

Briefly, on the structure of this book; it certainly is more of a study text book on over thirty topic areas in seven well laid out parts. However nothing I’ve read talks over the heads of readers, and if facilitated well in a real time group discussion format, there is a set of critical thinking questions at the end of each chapter that would further serve to heighten knowledge and awareness of readers, enough to make you want to be a more engaged in this social health dialogue. Continue Reading…

When did Retirement Income Planning get so complicated?

Photo by Gustavo Fring from Pexels

By Ian Moyer

(Sponsor Content)

Retirement planning used to be easy: you simply applied for your government benefits and your company pension at age 65. So, when did it get so complicated?

Things started to change in 2007 when pension splitting came into effect. While we did have Canada Pension Plan (CPP) sharing before that, not too many people took advantage of it. Then Tax Free Savings Accounts (TFSA) came along in 2009. At first you could only deposit small amounts into your TFSA, but in 2015 the contribution limit went to $10,000 (it’s since been reduced to $6,000 per year). Accounts that had been opened in 2009 were building in value, and the market was rebounding from the 2008 downturn. Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) dollars were now competing with TFSA dollars and people had to choose where they were going to put their retirement money.

In 2015 or 2016 financial planners suddenly started paying attention to how all of these assets (including income properties) were interconnected. There were articles about downsizing, succession planning, and selling the family cottage. This information got people thinking about their different sources of retirement income and which funds they should draw down first.

Of course, there is more to consider, such as the Old Age Security (OAS) clawback. When, where, and how much could this affect your retirement planning? People selling their business are often surprised that their OAS is clawed back in the year they sell the business, even if they’re eligible for the capital gains exemption. Not to mention what you need to do to leave some money behind for your loved ones. Even with all this planning, the fact that we pay so much tax when we die is never discussed, although the final tax bill always seems to be the elephant in the room. We just ignore it, and hope it’ll go away.

Income Tax doesn’t disappear at 65

Unfortunately, income tax doesn’t disappear at age 65, and you need time to plan ahead so you can reduce the amount of tax you pay in retirement. A good way to do this is to use a specialized software that takes all your sources of income and figures out the best strategy to get the most out of your retirement funds. Continue Reading…

Balance: How to Invest and Spend for Happiness, Health, and Wealth

By Michael J. Wiener

Special to the Financial Independence Hub

Andrew Hallam’s new personal finance book Balance is unlike any other financial book I’ve read.  He uses research to show us how to spend and invest in ways that create a happy and fulfilling life.

He uses vivid stories to illustrate his points that make the book a pleasure to read.  There’s a lot more to life satisfaction than just amassing personal wealth and owning fancy toys.

The book opens with the “four quadrants to a successful life”: “Having enough money,” “Maintaining strong relationships,” “Maximizing your physical and mental health,” and “Living with a sense of purpose.”

“I’ve met plenty of conventionally successful people (measured by money and career) who appeared less satisfied than, say, a family of Argentinians traveling through Mexico in a motorhome.”

I’ve had a similar experience seeing many executives with highly successful careers who are divorced and work so much that they do little at home other than eat, slump in front of a television, and sleep.

Stuff vs. Experiences

“What do you value more, your stuff or your life?”  This question has meaning for me having grown up with a parent who was a hoarder.  However, even non-hoarders often prioritize buying stuff over relationships and avoiding debt.  “If we want to live the best lives we can, we shouldn’t normalize credit card debts or auto loans.”  “Cars are the greatest personal wealth destroyer.”  Research shows that rich people often don’t drive fancy cars; when you see an expensive car, there’s a good chance its owner is in debt.

“Material things rarely boost life satisfaction.”  “Spend less money on stuff and more on memorable experiences.”  Experiences remain memorable for decades, but the stuff we buy is often quickly forgotten.   Some of the worst purchases are the ones we make solely to impress others.  “Before purchasing something, … Ask yourself, ‘Would I still buy this if nobody else could see it?’”

The things that affect happiness

Research shows that “we tend to be happier when we earn more than our neighbors.”  This leads to the advice to move to a neighbourhood where you have above-average income.  Unfortunately, that makes your new neighbours less happy.  It would be better if we could all be above such comparisons, but that’s easier said than done.

“Close relationships — far more than money — are the single greatest influence on a happy life.”  This resonates with me.  When I plan to travel somewhere warm for the winter months, my biggest concern is who I’m traveling with and what social activities we can get involved in.  For short trips, it’s good to go somewhere interesting, but for long trips, company trumps location.

“Research suggests we also narrow our social circles as we age.”  Focusing on those “we’ve formed deep connections with” works well for a time, but I think it’s a problem when these people start to pass away.  I wonder if this is part of the reason why we see so many desperately lonely older people living alone in a big house.

Hallam’s command of research on happiness and life satisfaction and his ability to use it to steer a good path in life are impressive.  The broad strokes of his lessons appear solid, but I wonder if some of the specific studies will fall to the widespread reproducibility crisis.  For example, there are “several large studies confirming that caring for others helps us live longer.”  Isn’t it necessarily the case that healthy people care for the weak?  It seems plausible that the causation is in the other direction: healthier people live longer and are more able to care for others.  Perhaps the studies’ authors found some way to prove that causation goes both ways to some degree.

Big purchases and budgeting

On the subject of stretching to buy a home, Hallam makes an excellent suggestion: “Ask yourself if you could still afford the mortgage if the interest rate doubled or you were out of work for six months.”  I’d change the “or” to an “and.” Too many people sign up for a decade or more of stress when they stretch to buy a house.  Renting is not synonymous with failure.  It’s possible to rent a nice place and get on with your life’s plans.

“To me, budgets are like diets.  Sometimes they work … but they usually don’t.”  Hallam advocates tracking your spending with a handy app, but he finds trying to set limits in advance on spending in various categories ineffective.  Just knowing how much you spend in each category will drive any needed change.


“Contrary to what many talking heads on YouTube, On TV, or in financial magazines may lead you to believe, you don’t need to follow the economy or know how to choose the best stocks to buy.”  “Banks, insurance companies, and investment firms … are filled with legally sanctioned crooks (and sometimes kind, naïve people).”

Hallam tells an interesting story to illustrate how savings accounts fail over the long- term because of inflation.  Many people pine for the days when savings accounts paid higher interest, but the story shows that the same inflation problem existed back in 1980.  One illuminating table shows how often U.S. savings accounts beat inflation over 5-year rolling periods from 1972-2020.  The answer: none!  The best place for long-term savings is stocks and bonds.

“Index funds are part of financial literacy.”  “If you learn to invest effectively, you could enjoy your chosen career instead of selling your soul for a higher-paying position you hate.”

Advisors and their Anti-Index Battle Plan

One of my favourite sections is “Financial Advisors and Their Anti-Index Battle Plan.”  It shreds the many practiced arguments the pushers of expensive mutual funds use to persuade people to avoid indexing.  The funny thing is that financial advisors seem to believe the things they are trained to say by their organizations.  In their own portfolios, “researchers found that they performed almost as badly as their clients.  When comparing their performances to an equal-risk-adjusted portfolio of index funds or ETFs, the advisors underperformed by about 3 per cent per year.”

The best plan is to choose some index funds or ETFs, and set some automatic contributions.  “The less you think about your investments, the more money you’ll likely make.”

Hallam lays out three choices for index investing: financial advisor, robo-advisor, or do-it-yourself (DIY).  Which you choose depends on your skills and interests.  He goes on to explain in detail how investors in different countries can succeed with index investing using each of the three approaches.

I enjoyed a story that began with “Do you believe in ghosts?” It explained why new investors should probably choose a slightly more conservative asset allocation than they think they can handle.  While I think it’s possible to learn to take market volatility in stride, if you haven’t had a chance to develop this equanimity, Hallam’s advice makes sense.

Social Responsibility

“Buy less of everything.  This should improve your happiness, your financial bottom line, and your children’s and grandchildren’s future.”  Buying less stuff isn’t just about saving the world; you’ll likely be happier as well. Continue Reading…