On Inequality

k10536Harry G. Frankfurt

On Inequality is a curious book. For one thing, it’s based on material previously published. That’s not unusual in itself, but in this case the earlier work dates from 1987 and 1997. It’s not often that a new book in the social sciences, never mind the hard sciences, relies so comfortably on such ancient sources.

Frankfurt’s book appears to have been prompted primarily by the unexpected popularity of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century, which makes an argument against income inequality with which Frankfurt strenuously — and repetitively — disagrees.

I’m not unsympathetic with Frankfurt’s quite narrow central thesis: “From the point of view of morality, it is not important that everyone should have the same. What is morally important is that each should have enough.” You don’t have to distribute ten jackets equally among eight people to give everyone a jacket. Point made.

Seems obvious enough, yet Frankfurt spends all of his short book making and remaking this simple point. Weren’t the original journal articles sufficient? Why go to this trouble now, unless to attempt to remedy the lack of attention paid to the point then by cashing in on the current interest piqued by Piketty?

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The New Prophets of Capital

cover57380-mediumNicole Aschoff
Verso Books

We live in a capitalist and free market world, and many of us struggle to keep our heads above the globalization waters. So when some-one, especially someone wildly successful, comes along to tell us how to stop clinging to the wreckage and swim safely to shore, we listen. After all, they made it, and now they’re telling us how to do it.

There’s just one problem. All of the solutions uncritically assume that the current economic and political system is a given: if not inevitable, it’s not going to change anytime soon. And that assumption condemns most of us to an unequal and inequitable existence. In a free-for-all market system of course there will be winners, but they always will be vastly outnumbered by the losers and the left behind.

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The Price of Paradise

Price of Paradise
David Dante Troutt


The Price of Paradise is a closely-argued and carefully-documented accounting of the social segregation and inequality of services that are at the core of the ideal of “local control.”

Troutt argues that “economic collapse pulled back the curtain on the flawed ways we finance schools, public safety, and infrastructure repair, foreshadowing decades of limited services, unstable budgets, and grossly unequal communities.”

Troutt claims that these “flawed ways” are primarily a matter of a sense of place, a function of how defining the space in which one lives as a middle-class citizen dooms other, less fortunate citizens to reduced or absent opportunities for access to that middle class.

In other words, the very existence of middle-class towns and suburbs generates and perpetuates inequality: “Generations of inequitable localist policies have favored the places currently occupied by a fortunate few over those of the emerging majority. This distribution of public resources is unfair, unreasonable, and unsustainable.”

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The Internet Is Not the Answer

Andrew Keen Andrew Keen 2015

There have been many books about the evils of the internet, from complaints about the way that online life deadens our brains to warnings about the pervasive surveillance to which we subject ourselves whenever we use one of our electronic toys.

The Internet Is Not the Answer is a complaint and a warning, but its focus is different. Andrew Keen’s main concern is the economic consequences of what he sees as a libertarian hijacking of what began as a communitarian ideal: access for everyone, all the time, for free.

Today, argues Keen, “the more we use the contemporary digital network, the less economic value it is bringing to us.”

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Beyond Outrage

imagesRobert Reich

In Beyond Outrage: What Has Gone Wrong with Our Economy and Our Democracy, and How to Fix ItClinton cabinet member and progressive favourite Robert Reich continues the themes, and reframes the arguments, that made Aftershock (2010) — reviewed here — one of my favourite political books since the Crash of 2008.

This time the arguments and examples are smothered by such a polemical tone that Reich’s content makes a liar of his title. That’s too bad. I share Reich’s opinion of Big Money, but I fear that his current approach is counter-productive.

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The Self-Made Myth

Brian Miller & Mike Lapham

With GOP delegates’ chants of “We built it!” — their Animal Farm response to a criticism of entrepreneurship that they know Barack Obama never made — still ringing in our ears, now seems a good time to re-feature an important little book that reminds us that no one makes it alone in a complex society.

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Richard H. Thaler & Cass R. Sunstein

There’s one more best-selling psychology book that’s worth a look, one that claims more gravitas and exerts much more influence than The Psychopath Test or Outliers.

That book is Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness, by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein.

In “The Anatomy of Influence,” a Chronicle Review glamour profile of Daniel Kahneman, Kahneman calls Nudge the “bible of behavioral economics.” And Kahneman, co-founder of Prospect Theory, the basis of behavioral economics, should know if anyone does, shouldn’t he?
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