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THE HAVES AND HAVE-NOTS

A BRIEF AND IDIOSYNCRATIC HISTORY OF INEQUALITY AROUND THE GLOBE

Authoritative but not easy reading.

The lead economist at the World Bank’s research division takes a timely look at the inequality of income and wealth.

Global inequality is “extremely high,” writes Milanovic (Worlds Apart: Measuring International and Global Inequality, 2005), with the richest ten percent of income recipients receiving 56 percent of global income, while the poorest ten percent receive only 0.7 percent. A few poor countries are catching up with the rich world, but the differences between the richest and poorest individuals are enormous and likely to grow. In this wide-ranging book, the author examines inequality within nations and between nations, using vignettes to illustrate how wealth and income differences play out in daily life. However, Milanovic’s detailed explanations of how available data can be used to produce insights are often complex and dense—they will be rough going for most non-specialists. Fortunately, the anecdotes make up most of the book and shed considerable light on a grab-bag of issues related to inequalities past and present. For instance: Although Marcus Crassus of ancient Rome had an income equal to the annual incomes of about 32,000 people of his time, John D. Rockefeller was probably the richest person ever, with an income equal to that of about 116,000 people in 1937. Rome wins hands down, however, when the income of its senators (about $21 million annually) is compared to that of today’s U.S. senators (less than $700,000). In China, where inequality doubled between the 1980s and 2005, the disparity between haves and have-nots threatens national unity. Anywhere in the world, writes Milanovic, more than 80 percent of a person’s income can be explained by two factors: place of birth and parents’ income class. The only ways to improve one’s income: hard work, growth in the national mean income of one’s country (carrying the entire population with it) and immigration. The author also discusses differences between the United States and the European Union, similarities between Asia and Latin America and whether the world actually has a middle class (“at best only emerging”).

Authoritative but not easy reading.

Pub Date: Jan. 3, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-465-01974-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Basic Books

Review Posted Online: Sept. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2010

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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