INEQUALITY IN AN AGE OF DECLINE by Paul Blumberg

INEQUALITY IN AN AGE OF DECLINE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Throughout the post-WW II economic boom, Blumberg (Sociology, Queens College, CUNY) points out, class inequalities not only persisted, they were exacerbated; and he's out to show that now, with economic decline, the gaps are widening as the standard of living of some falls further than that of others. But his study is more than its title implies, for he also provides a comprehensive and clearly stated analysis of U.S. economic troubles. Rejecting the idea that the increased cost of oil was the key factor in the U.S. trade deficit, Blumberg notes that the deficit began in 1971 (before the OPEC increases of 1973), and is rooted in the decline of U.S. manufacturing. Technical obsolescence, complacency, and the rush toward rock-bottom wage rates abroad triggered the decline as U.S. steel ceased to be competitive and American banks started investing abroad. Blumberg makes some crucial points along the way, including the claim that the persistent underwriting of military technology--in part necessary to protect the oppressive governments that guarantee low-wage, unskilled labor--has produced an underdevelopment of industrial technology. While noting the transfer of industrial jobs abroad, Blumberg also takes apart the vaunted ""post-industrial society"" image of a white-collar America, showing that workers in the service sector are actually less well paid than their industrial forebears, with the result that real wages have declined over the economy as a whole; so much, too, for the argument that the loss of industrial jobs is due to excessively high wages. The U.S., Blumberg concludes, is moving ""toward something that might be called the Europeanization of the American class system, with lower levels of living, a more rigid structure, and greater inequality."" But he is not without hope. The decline in mobility as a result of the tight housing market might lead to a restoration of community, he suggests, while awareness that growth will not conveniently solve our problems might result in a democratic confrontation with poverty and inequality. After his empirically-grounded analysis of American decline, Blumberg's musings may sound Pollyanna-ish, but it's the analysis that counts, and that's top-notch.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1980
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press