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There is a rare commodity here: a well-thought out, genuinely original idea. A good way to provoke serious discussion of weighty social and political issues is to offer a seemingly radical proposal justified by traditional political values. Ackerman and Alstott, both professors at Yale Law School, do so by suggesting that if we believe people should have an equal opportunity to reap the rewards or consequences of their actions, we should provide everyone a “stake” and then let them choose what to do with the opportunity it represents. If every citizen received a one-time payment of $80,000 early in their adulthood, they could finance an education, start a business, buy a house . . . the choice would be theirs, but most importantly, everyone would have a real choice to make. Initially, this program would be financed through a wealth tax with an exemption level of $80,000; ultimately, it would be funded primarily or perhaps entirely through a refunding process in which each person receiving a stake must commit to pay it back, with interest, later in their lives. The authors work out their proposal in some detail, and address likely objections with reasonable responses. They recognize that policies with even a hint of redistributive potential will face strong opposition, but there is a powerful bottom line to their argument: if you genuinely believe in equal opportunity and individual responsibility, what better way could there be to make them social realities? Ackerman and Alstott raise fundamental questions about citizenship, distributive justice, and, above all, what it would mean to be serious about the political ideals routinely used to legitimate American political and economic institutions. Whether or not you like their ideas, they cannot be honestly dismissed without some serious thought and discussion. An important contribution that should enliven public discourse even if it does not gain wide popular acceptance.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-300-07826-9
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Yale Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1999


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