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|Hot Topic: Key Reading on Inequality in the U.S.. Choice, v.49, no. 05, January 2012.|
Blank, Rebecca M. Changing inequality. California, 2011. 225p bibl index afp (Aaron Wildavsky forum for public policy, 8); ISBN 9780520266926, $60.00; ISBN 9780520266933 pbk, $24.95. Reviewed in 2011dec CHOICE.
49-2183 HC110 2011-5495 CIP
Blank (formerly of the Brookings Institution and the Univ. of Michigan; currently acting US secretary of commerce) has expanded an Aaron Wildavsky Forum for Public Policy lecture into this book. Using detailed Current Population Survey data, she computes pretax per capita total income (a more comprehensive measure than anyone else has used) for nonelderly adults in the US for 1979 and 2007. Like others, she finds a substantial increase in income inequality; unlike others, she finds that the level of income has risen for most of the income distribution. In the latter part of the book, she theoretically analyzes the impact of a variety of shocks (war, pandemic, technological breakthrough, etc.) on the distribution of income. Later Blank uses simulations to gauge the impact of various policies and changes in economic behavior on inequality (improvements in skills, equalization of investment income, increases in marriage, an expanded safety net, etc.). Large but reasonable changes in these factors have a relatively small effect on current inequality, leading the author to conclude that a high degree of inequality is likely to exist for a long time. Blank offers insight on a topic of much current debate. Summing Up: Recommended. All levels of undergraduate students; faculty; professionals; general readers. -- R. S. Rycroft, University of Mary Washington
Brown, Christopher. Inequality, consumer credit and the saving puzzle. E. Elgar, 2008. 183p bibl index; ISBN 9781847205094, $100.00. Reviewed in 2009apr CHOICE.
46-4551 HG3755 MARC
Brown (Arkansas State Univ.) makes an important contribution to the field of consumer credit by presenting a broad view of the issues and problems associated with growing consumer credit habits, culture, and institutions. An important thesis he puts forth is that expanding income inequality has resulted in increased demand for credit and, consequently, consistently rising debt levels. This has produced both practical lending channels and predatory lenders. The author discusses many of these issues, giving an overarching presentation that explains the growth of the consumer credit market and development of new credit products. Most importantly, he describes how this expansion in credit was a demand-side phenomenon, because with decreasing (or stagnant) real median wages, people used credit as a substitute for lost income. However, credit expansion was also the result of supply-side effects. Changes in lending laws made it possible for banks (and other institutions) to extend more credit to more borrowers--and more importantly, to riskier borrowers. This book effectively uses a heterodox methodology, which will appeal to a wide audience of social scientists. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduate and graduate students, researchers, and professionals. -- R. H. Scott, Monmouth University
Conley, Dalton. Elsewhere, U.S.A. Pantheon Books, 2009. 221p index; ISBN 9780375422904, $24.00. Outstanding Title! Reviewed in 2009nov CHOICE.
47-1726 HM831 MARC
Distinguished social scientist Conley (NYU) explains how US society got from the company man, family dinners, and the affluent society to the home office, BlackBerry moms, and economic anxiety. The traditional Protestant ethic is now replaced by the "elsewhere ethic." The author provides a clear picture of how the past three decades of technological, social, and economic changes slowly but dramatically reshaped US lives and society and how leisure and work, public and private spaces, and home and office have blurred. With fascinating bits of information, he describes how these economic trends, combined together, gave rise to a new type of American and a new texture of everyday life. Conley follows his preface, "A Tale of Three Generations," by reviewing different phases of life in the US today with sound sociological analysis. He considers women's increasing participation in the labor force; rising economic inequality; the individualism of the modern era; the way Americans earn and spend; public life in an age of private markets; new types of crime and criminals; family life in the elsewhere society; and the birth of the "intravidual." Superbly well written and so easy to read--almost like talking with the author. Most highly recommended for any intelligent person. Summing Up: Essential. All levels/libraries. -- M. Y. Rynn, emerita, University of Seranton
Firebaugh, Glenn. The new geography of global income inequality. Harvard, 2003. 257p bibl index afp ISBN 0-674-01067-1, $49.95. Outstanding Title! Reviewed in 2003sep CHOICE.
41-0421 HC79 2002-38724 CIP
Firebaugh (Pennsylvania State Univ.) punctures the widely held myth that the world's income inequality is increasing, convincingly contending that because of the decline of between-nation inequality, global inequality is falling. To be sure, during the 19th and most of the 20th centuries, income inequality grew across nations while inequality was steady or declined within nations. Both trends, however, were reversed in the last three to four decades of the 20th century. The late 20th century marked a transition from the dominance of between-nation inequality to within-nation inequality in explaining changes in global inequality. Reasons for this transition are the rise in the ratio of the working to dependent population in developing countries because of slower population growth; the collapse of communism; the spread of industrialization and its technology; the growth of the unequal services sector; the convergence of national economic institutions; and the decoupling of productive activity from physical location. While Robert Barro, Branko Milanovic, Francois Bourguignon, Christian Morrisson, and Firebaugh himself have presented some of these findings in articles, no scholar matches Firebaugh in bringing these major findings together in a monograph that is clearly written, well organized, and methodologically sound. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduate through faculty collections. -- E. W. Nafziger, Kansas State University
Frank, Robert H. Falling behind: how rising inequality harms the middle class. California, 2007. 148p bibl index afp (The Aaron Wildavsky forum for public policy, 4) ISBN 0-520-25188-1, $50.00; ISBN 0520252527 pbk, $19.95; ISBN 9780520251885, $50.00; ISBN 9780520252523 pbk, $19.95. Reviewed in 2007dec CHOICE.
45-2141 HT690 2006-26248 CIP
Given the strong growth in absolute levels of economic affluence in the US, Frank (Cornell Univ.) analyzes why happiness has not advanced correspondingly. He attributes this to people valuing their status in a relative fashion, casting aside absolutes. The author builds on James Duesenberry's Income, Saving, and the Theory of Consumer Behavior (1949), wherein persons are said to seek to preserve a particular position of income and spending relative to their perceived peers--a concept that replaces the efficiency goal incorporated in conventional economic models. Frank supports his thesis with interesting examples, e.g., the adverse consequence of rising inequality of income due to a greater share going to the rich. This has resulted in a "cascade of expenditures" by the middle class to keep up (e.g., large houses and other consumer goods), financed by huge indebtedness and longer work hours. The author believes these expenditures crowd out more socially useful endeavors and recommends a progressive consumption tax to encourage more saving to finance programs beneficial to society. An elegant, lucid, and interesting book, although it does not explain why many paternalistic welfare states (e.g., France, Germany, and Italy) rank lower in studies of happiness than the US. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Public, academic, and professional collections. -- H. I. Liebling, emeritus, Lafayette College
Hacker, Jacob S. Winner-take-all politics: how Washington made the rich richer--and turned its back on the middle class, by Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson. Simon & Schuster, 2010. 357p bibl index; ISBN 9781416588696, $27.00. Reviewed in 2011jul CHOICE.
48-6579 HN89 2010-14515 CIP
Hacker (Yale Univ.) and Pierson (Univ. of California at Berkeley) have produced an excellent addition to a growing literature that argues that politics, rather than impersonal economic and technological forces, is the central reason for the recent and dramatic rise of inequality in the US. The authors make a compelling case that the main culprit in this account is the explosion of corporate political organizing starting in the 1970s combined with a decline in organizational strength among key working- and middle-class institutions--badly weakened labor unions being most crucial. Simply put, poorly organized progressive forces cannot compete with the massive financial and well-organized forces of big business. In normal times, the product of this imbalance is a politics of "drift" as popular economic, environmental, and consumer reform proposals are simply killed. During periods of "renewal" (e.g., the elections of 2006 and 2008), corporate domination of campaign finance, and post-election attention by an army of corporate lobbyists, ensures that popular reform efforts will be further frustrated or, at best, passed in watered-down form. Recent health care reform efforts, though successful, illustrate this point, as important business interests were accommodated at the outset lest the effort be doomed from the start. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Undergraduate readers, all levels. -- S. E. Horn, Everett Community College
Inequality and American democracy: what we know and what we need to learn, ed. by Lawrence R. Jacobs and Theda Skocpol. Russell Sage Foundation, 2005. 246p bibl index afp ISBN 0-87154-413-X, $37.50. Reviewed in 2006jul CHOICE.
43-6842 JC575 2005-42897 CIP
Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America described the US as a nation with a general equality of conditions. This political, social, and economic equality provided for a democratic spirit unique in the world. But does Tocqueville's 19th-century egalitarian America live on in the 21st century? Not so, according to the authors of this edited volume. Originally inspired by a study sponsored by the American Political Science Association, this book documents the rising economic inequality in the US in the last 30 years, while also exploring the social and political implications of this phenomenon. In comparison to developed nations in Europe, the US has a greater gap in wealth and income between its richest and poorest, and American attitudes seem to tolerate this distribution. Yet American attitudes do not support legal or political inequalities. Unfortunately, as the book shows, these economic inequalities have produced pronounced biases in American politics and public policy, with socioeconomic status producing clear biases in terms of who participates politically, who runs for office, who benefits from public policies, and overall who governs. Summing Up: Essential. All readership levels. -- D. Schultz, Hamline University
Kelly, Nathan J. The politics of income inequality in the United States. Cambridge, 2009. 201p bibl index; ISBN 9780521514583, $75.00. Reviewed in 2010feb CHOICE.
47-3468 HC110 2008-55111 CIP
Like Benjamin Page and James Simmons in What Government Can Do (CH, May'01, 38-5249), Kelly (Univ. of Tennessee, Knoxville) aims to assess the impact of government. But this political scientist goes beyond previous efforts by using statistical analysis to determine how federal spending and taxes affect the distribution of income in the US. After establishing that the distribution of income is more unequal in the US than in comparable nations, Kelly traces not only direct government efforts to redistribute income, but also indirect government efforts that affect redistribution by "market conditioning," that is, affecting workers' leverage in markets. He draws on both "macro politics" and "power resources" studies to show that political dynamics powerfully influence income distribution. A survey of members of Congress clarifies that Democrats place a higher priority on redistribution than do Republicans. Party control of the presidency matters for income distribution, but not straightforwardly. Democratic presidencies yield more income redistribution through market conditioning than Republican presidencies, but ironically, there tends to be more redistribution through government efforts during Republican presidencies. This book is most appropriate for graduate courses in public opinion, public policy, and political economy. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduate, graduate, research, and professional collections. -- D. B. Robertson, University of Missouri--St. Louis
Lawrence, Robert Z. Blue-collar blues: is trade to blame for rising income inequality?. Peterson Institute for International Economics, 2008. 89p bibl index afp; ISBN 9780881324143 pbk, $19.95. Reviewed in 2008dec CHOICE.
46-2198 HC110 CIP
This short but interesting study of income inequality examines reasons for the increasing gap in earnings among American workers. Lawrence (Harvard) cites a variety of factors. First, he examines the wage-productivity gap over the past two decades and finds that white-collar workers have engaged in more rapid skill acquisition and are compensated accordingly. Thus higher-skilled workers receive relatively greater return on their human capital investments than lower-skilled workers. He also considers another measurement issue related to the wage-productivity gap--the fact that worker compensation is increasing in the form of greater benefits received at the expense of wages. Without adequately including benefits packages, the wage component loses explanatory weight. Lawrence raises the issue of class inequality in his study. The aggregate income pie indicates a greater proportion of income taking the form of profits and a relatively lesser share the form of wages. The capitalist class is increasing its share at the expense of the working class. Finally, Lawrence notes that increasing foreign trade and globalization has little explanatory power for the increasing income inequality. Thus policies to slow growth or reverse direction on world trade are unwarranted. A good, accessible read for undergraduates in economics, especially students of labor economics and international trade. Summing Up: Recommended. Academic library collections. -- D. A. O'Connor, Loras College
McCarty, Nolan. Polarized America: the dance of ideology and unequal riches, by Nolan McCarty, Keith T. Poole, and Howard Rosenthal. MIT, 2006. 240p bibl index afp ISBN 0-262-13464-0, $35.00. Outstanding Title! Reviewed in 2007feb CHOICE.
44-3551 HN90 2005-56753 CIP
McCarty, Poole, and Rosenthal have written a book of unusually large empirical scope that explains many central characteristics of contemporary American politics. The authors chart increasing partisan polarization in Congress and increased income disparity in recent decades. How are these changes linked? The two parties' agendas have dramatically diverged as income inequality has risen. In Congress, the GOP has become more conservative and Democrats more liberal, leading to lower levels of legislative productivity, as majority agreements are harder to achieve. Employing sophisticated quantitative analysis, the authors note a recent move away from redistributive policies by the national government, in part fueled by rising real incomes since 1960 that translated into greater GOP strength. Noting that partisan polarization and economic inequality "have proven to be durable features of our political economy for almost three decades," the authors argue that "reordering the system will require major changes in the loyalties of various groups to the political parties." That, they argue, will happen slowly, if at all. This book is essential reading for all students of American politics. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. -- S. E. Schier, Carleton College
McNamee, Stephen J. The meritocracy myth, by Stephen J. McNamee and Robert K. Miller Jr. Rowman & Littlefield, 2004. 219p bibl index afp ISBN 0-7425-1055-7, $69.00. Outstanding Title! Reviewed in 2005feb CHOICE.
42-3742 HN90 2003-616371 CIP
To what extent do we earn our individual successes or failures? In this slim but comprehensive volume, sociologists McNamee and Miller (both, Univ. of North Carolina, Wilmington) lay out multiple factors that limit what the majority can achieve. Where we start out in the race is the most salient variable. The authors provide massive evidence that supports their contention that inheritance and pervasive discrimination limit opportunities and justify inequality. For example, the richest 1 percent of the population owns 40 percent of all net worth. Thus, wealthy children are protected from their follies. The authors examine racial and gender discrimination, social and cultural capital, education, luck, and self-employment as well as other forms of discrimination, such as homophobia and disability. Readers see how education serves as both an avenue and a barrier to advancement in an increasingly credentialed society. While opportunities have expanded, many occupations are segregated into tiers. Self-employment used to be a major vehicle for advancement; now that applies to only 7 percent of Americans. Although the concluding chapter delineating policy changes needs development, this well-written and researched book on a neglected topic is a must read. Summing Up: Essential. All levels/libraries; especially recommended for studies in stratification and public policy. -- S. D. Borchert, Lake Erie College
Page, Benjamin I. Class war?: what Americans really think about economic inequality, by Benjamin I. Page and Lawrence R. Jacobs. Chicago, 2009. 142p index afp; ISBN 9780226644547, $39.00; ISBN 9780226644554 pbk, $13.00. Reviewed in 2010jan CHOICE.
47-2863 HC110 2008-43595 CIP
This text reviews 50 years of public opinion data concerning American economic inequality in the US, and its implications for public policy making. Page (Northwestern Univ.) and Jacobs (Univ. of Minnesota) are well-regarded experts in the field of US public opinion, and their perspective is helpful and welcome. Their text offers a fresh perspective on the issue of class-based politics by examining the most tangible evidence of American attitudes toward economic class differences and government remedies for those differences. Many findings here may come as a surprise: for example, by consistently wide margins over the last half-century, Americans have believed that there are significant, growing gaps between the rich and everyone else. Secondly, Americans believe that these gaps are troubling and, thirdly, they would welcome governmental interventions to try to reduce the effects of income gaps (for example, by subsidizing health care coverage). Inevitably, this is a large subject to tackle, and it could be made even larger by a discussion of the appropriate basis for policy formulation and of the importance of question wording, or the importance of the social and political context in which questions are asked. These questions remain beyond the scope of a slim volume. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readership levels. -- D. R. Imig, University of Memphis
Pizzigati, Sam. Greed and good: understanding and overcoming the inequality that limits our lives. Apex Press, 2004. 659p index afp ISBN 1-891843-25-7, $34.95. Outstanding Title! Reviewed in 2005mar CHOICE.
42-4155 HC110 2004-43728 CIP
This extraordinary book begins with a detailed demolition of the trickle-down case for inequality. Pizzigati, a labor economist, also makes the case that vast accumulations of wealth neither create effective incentives to work harder nor ensure that the appropriate level of savings will be forthcoming. The author continues in the second part by arguing that inequality encourages inefficiency and has stupendous social costs. He compellingly asserts that a less unequal society would benefit the very rich as well as the poor. The final section begins with a historical analysis of the debates over inequality in the US from the early days of the republic to the present. The book ends with a short discussion about the possibility of creating a more equitable society. No brief description can adequately describe the mass of valuable insight and information contained within this volume. The footnotes alone run more than 80 pages. References come from the popular press as well as professional journals. Pizzigati tells his story well and on a level easily accessible to undergraduates, while still providing material that advanced researchers will find valuable. This book deserves the highest possible recommendation. Summing Up: Essential. Public, academic, and professional library collections. -- M. Perelman, California State University, Chico
Schneider, Michael. The distribution of wealth. E. Elgar, 2004. 148p bibl indexes ISBN 1-84064-814-7, $75.00. Outstanding Title! Reviewed in 2005mar CHOICE.
42-4159 HB251 2004-42270 MARC
Schneider (La Trobe Univ., Australia) has written a review of the academic literature concerning the personal distribution of wealth. Topics include how to measure wealth inequality; empirical studies from around the world; determinants of the distribution of wealth; economic justice; alternative policies to change the distribution of wealth; and the impact of the distribution of wealth on economic efficiency. The breadth of the author's reading is exceptional. He reviews literature about capitalist, communal, and transitional societies, and from neoclassical and Keynesian perspectives. He does not restrict his reviews to the positive literature. There are several normative pieces included as well. Packing all that information into 124 pages inevitably means some reviews are frustratingly short. Nevertheless, this book is an excellent starting point for anyone interested in the topic. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduate through professional collections. -- R. S. Rycroft, University of Mary Washington
Social contracts under stress: the middle classes of America, Europe, and Japan at the turn of the century, ed. by Olivier Zunz, Leonard Schoppa, and Nobuhiro Hiwatari. Russell Sage Foundation, 2002. 431p bibl index afp ISBN 0-87154-997-2, $47.40. Outstanding Title! Reviewed in 2003jan CHOICE.
40-2865 HT690 2001-55714 CIP
Scholars in history, politics, and sociology are the primary contributors to these richly informative and timely analyses of middle-class destinies. The postwar prosperity and economic vitality of the 20th century appear increasingly situational in the glare of hindsight. The scope of detail on income inequality trends for seven countries (France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Sweden, the UK, and the US) is truly sweeping, and the high caliber of all 16 essays leaves the reader both knowing more and wondering more about the joint fates of nations, classes, and households. These contributions shine in their ability to demand attentive effort and to reward that effort with instructive, enduring, and global lessons on how wealth distribution rules have evolved and are now under vast pressures for renegotiation. Such a task could be fraught with partisan rhetoric, but this volume achieves instead an erudite comparative assessment of conflicts within and across borders. Taken as a whole, these chapters warn of adversities that will make or break this generation of current and emerging leaders in Western Europe, Japan, and the US. One hopes they will all read this book. Upper-division undergraduates and above. -- R. Zingraff, Meredith College
Sullivan, Teresa A. The fragile middle class: Americans in debt, by Teresa A. Sullivan, Elizabeth Warren, and Jay Lawrence Westbrook. Yale, 2000. 380p index afp ISBN 0-300-07960-5, $32.50. Reviewed in 2000jul CHOICE.
37-6379 HG3766 99-41894 CIP
Sullivan (Univ. of Texas, Austin), Warren (Harvard Law), and Westbrook (Univ. of Texas Law) have collected data on bankrupt Americans from 1981 through 1998, and they find that freely available credit card debt is a major contributor to rising middle-class bankruptcy. Credit cards allow a continuous flow of small-decision borrowing so long as minimum payments are made; as a result, many borrowers sink deeper into debt with every purchase. The authors discuss how social safety nets, credit mechanisms, and consumer bankruptcy filings are intimately related. They report how West European nations have partially insulated their middle class from economic risk with a strong safety net and tight regulations on consumer credit, whereas the US has chosen greater individual opportunity with the accompanying risk of financial failure. The authors argue that the US's shrinking safety net and sparse credit regulations assure abundant bankruptcies, as bankruptcy is the free-market remedy for losers in economic competition. Noting that during the 1930s the US developed a commitment to protecting the middle class, the authors vividly show how reducing that commitment has created a dynamic US economy but a crowded bankruptcy court and an economically "fragile" middle class. This thought-provoking and timely book is recommended for public, academic, and professional collections. -- R. T. Averitt, Smith College
Editor’s note: These pertinent titles will be reviewed in a forthcoming issue:
Marsh, John. Class dismissed: why we cannot teach or learn our way out of inequality. Monthly Review, 2011. 255p index afp ISBN 9781583672440, $85.00; ISBN 9781583672433 pbk, $19.95
Schutz, Eric A. Inequality and power: the economics of class. Routledge, 2011. 226p bibl index ISBN 9780415554800, $130.00; ISBN 9780203828878 e-book, contact publisher for price
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