The growing disparity in income and wealth between the richest Americans and “the rest of us” is very much in the news these days, but Nobel-Prize-winning economist Joseph Stigliz has been writing about it for a long time. This book brings together short pieces that appeared in publications such as Vanity Fair and the New York Times warning of the dangers of inequality as long ago as 2007.
The book is in nine sections. The first section he calls a Prelude because it discusses the 2007-2008 recession and the response to it that built the background for the increasing inequality seen today. The middle sections contain articles describing the disparity, personal reflections from Stiglitz’s life, dimensions of inequality such as student debt and health care, causes for inequality such as a tax system that favors the elite, and consequences of the inequality. The later sections elaborate on his argument that such inequality is not inevitable but is a political choice and explore the international picture in countries like Japan, Australia, Spain, China, Singapore, Scotland, and even Mauritius. The final section consists of articles in which Stiglitz outlines the kinds of actions America should take to combat inequality. In an Afterword, Vanity Fair editor Cullen Murphy interviews Stiglitz responding to conservative critics who claim that the rich create jobs. Each of the nine sections of the book is preceded by a lengthy introduction providing an overview of the topic of that section.
This anthology format has strengths and weaknesses. It allows for the presentation of a broad range of topics relating to inequality, and it is interesting to see how the topics develop over the course of the time period in which the articles were written. On the other hand, since the articles are generally short (Many were op-ed pieces.), readers new to a topic may feel they need for more data or a longer explanation. In addition, because they were written at different times for different publications, there was a great deal of repetition, e.g., Thomas Piketty’s book Capitalism in the Twenty-first Century is discussed at length in at least two of the articles as well as the introduction to Part I.
Readers who want in-depth presentation of Stiglitz’s thinking would probably be happier reading one of his other books, such as The Price of Inequality, that contain more data and a more comprehensive exposition of his ideas, but those who want a broad survey or who already admire him and want to hear more from this influential thinker will welcome this book.
- Buy a selected textbook and get free expedited shipping. Offered by Amazon AU. Here's how (terms and conditions apply)