Nobel Prize–winning economist Stiglitz (The Price of Inequality, 2012, etc.) examines some of the macro dollars-and-cents issues that separate the haves from the have-nots—and money is just of them.
Inequality kills democracy, and, the author observes, it is rapidly on the rise, more so in the United States than in any other Western country and on a par with Russia and numerous developing nations, “a club of which we should not be proud to be a member.” Stiglitz has been working in this vein for many years, but his diagnoses and prognoses take on new urgency in this time of increasing disparity. Here, the author gathers magazine and journal pieces that roughly track to the financial crisis of 2007 and its aftermath. There’s a certain degree of unavoidable repetitiveness in the collection, but the author’s weaving them together with fresh threads of commentary (on, among other things, the “Piketty phenomenon”) provides coherence and useful emphasis. It helps to have some background in economics when reading his takes on “rent-seeking behavior,” which has a very specific economic meaning, but overall, Stiglitz writes jargon-free, persuasive prose that repeatedly makes the point that inequality and all its burdens are, in the end, the results of political choices consciously made: we don’t have to live in a world of superrich, a declining middle class, and a growing pool of poverty. These political choices, he charges, have been made as much by the Obama administration as its predecessor, and many of them hinge on protecting the financial industry at the expense of the taxpayer. “We have, in a phrase, confused ends with means,” he writes. “A banking system is supposed to serve society, not the other way around.”
Smart, sometimes-stinging prose that rejects the doctrines of strangled government and artificial austerity, doctrines that require us to “pay a high economic price for our growing inequality and declining opportunity.”