Labor journalist Pizzigati (Greed and Good: Understanding and Overcoming the Inequality that Limits Our Lives, 2004, etc.) makes the case that graduated tax rates and strong unions once led to an economic golden age for average Americans—and could do so again.
The author focuses on how, since the end of the 19th century, a massive economic gap between the rich and poor in America has sparked populist and progressive ideas. The resulting legislation and regulations, he writes, brought about changes that greatly improved the lives of many Americans by mid-century. But as Pizzigati shows, many of those policies and institutions were weakened or eliminated in later decades, and economic inequality has since grown. By revisiting and reinvigorating those ideas—such as steeply raising taxes on the wealthy—he argues that the gap could be narrowed once more. The author gives due attention to several major historical figures, most notably Franklin D. Roosevelt, but Pizzigati also name checks less-discussed individuals, such as attorney and reformist Amos Pinchot and Colorado congressman Edward Keating. The author also delves into complicated labor history and tax law, examining the many victories and defeats of progressive-leaning policies. However, Pizzigati has an unfortunate tendency to broadly demonize the rich, at one point even taking issue with the wealth of doomed passengers on the Titanic. He is undeniably passionate about his subject and skilled at marshaling information to make his points, but the book seems largely aimed at like-minded readers and may not change the minds of skeptics.
A flawed but ambitious, readable look at economic reformism over the last century.