Unlikely to sway those for whom the idea of economic inequality is anathema, but a set of arguments worth considering.

THE UPSIDE OF INEQUALITY

HOW GOOD INTENTIONS UNDERMINE THE MIDDLE CLASS

Tax the rich? Even out the playing field? Bad idea, writes a famously contrarian financier.

It stands to reason that someone affiliated with the American Enterprise Institute would be inclined to mount a stout defense of the 1 percent, and Conard (Unintended Consequences: Why Everything You’ve Been Told About the Economy Is Wrong, 2012) does not disappoint. Add to this his one-time role at Bain Capital, which he co-founded with Mitt Romney, and the package would seem to be complete. However, the author’s argument, calmly presented, has merits: it is true that, in general, the rich pay more taxes than they consume in government services and that a diverse knowledge economy offers more opportunities for wealth than a low-skilled one—and almost by definition produces inequalities. From these premises, Conard’s policy recommendations do not necessarily follow, and some of them are politically toxic, such as the thought that giving the middle class a tax break is ill-advised. “Successful risk-taking that produces innovation and gradually builds institutional capabilities accelerates growth,” he writes. “A middle-class tax cut will have no such effect.” Some of the author’s suggestions, if impractical, are intriguing—e.g., why not have the rich shoulder the burden of defense spending, since they’re the ones who have the most to defend? The weakest sections of the book are the most formulaic, such as the tired mantra that students should not be rewarded for studying English but should instead be induced to study something “useful,” never mind that many iconic business leaders (Steve Jobs, Bill Gates) have studies in philosophy and the humanities in their quivers. Conard also comes up short on specifics for the education reform that he argues is needed to produce a robust economy, noting weakly instead that “we should be running a multitude of experiments to find solutions that work.”

Unlikely to sway those for whom the idea of economic inequality is anathema, but a set of arguments worth considering.

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-59523-123-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Portfolio

Review Posted Online: July 19, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2016

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 18

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2015

  • Kirkus Prize
  • Kirkus Prize
    winner

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

  • National Book Award Winner

  • Pulitzer Prize Finalist

BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

Did you like this book?

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

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“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. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

Did you like this book?

more