Financial confessionals: What’s left out

The distinguished writer Neal Gabler wrote a confessional essay about his family’s financial struggles in the Atlantic this month. My response to it, on the Atlantic website, is here.

If you read Gabler’s piece, or maybe if you re-read it, you’ll notice conspicuously few specific dollar figures. A fascinating aspect of such pieces is the combination of painful candor about some matters, while other things are conveyed in general terms or held even closer to the vest. There are good and bad reasons for discretion. Most of us presumably do that when we make use of self in our public writings. One obvious consideration is to protect another person’s privacy.

This combination of revelation and selective reticence is especially striking in financial accounts, where a few concrete numbers would provide so much greater clarity.

Author: Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. He has served on three expert committees of the National Academies of Science. His recent research appears in such journals as Addiction, Journal of the American Medical Association, and American Journal of Public Health. He writes regularly on HIV prevention, crime and drug policy, health reform, and disability policy for American Prospect,, and other news outlets. His essay, "Lessons from an Emergency Room Nightmare" was selected for the collection The Best American Medical Writing, 2009. He recently participated, with zero critical acclaim, in the University of Chicago's annual Latke-Hamentaschen debate.