Inequality stands for an officially acknowledged problem needing an urgent fix as much as the eco crisis. More to the point would be talk of the global injustice inscribed in the eternal reproduction of inequality. Not least by the money system. Not to mention land and it’s interesting distribution. Yes land. And sea. And the gifts of Nature, Gaia, God. I wonder what my fair share would be. Like a 10billionth slice of planet Earth?
The following quote is a reminder that the conceptuality of inequality represents the mainstream’s mode of avoiding any analysis of power. Or rather it’s interesting distribution. Instead one prefers to analyse the economy as a aggregates of de-contextualised abstraction in a neutralising and naturalising fashion. As Graeber&Wengrow put it: “The term ‘ inequality ’ is a way of framing social problems appropriate to an age of technocratic reformers , who assume from the outset that no real vision of social transformation is even on the table.”
The political implications of the Hobbesian model need little elaboration . It is a foundational assumption of our economic system that humans are at base somewhat nasty and selfish creatures , basing their decisions on cynical , egoistic calculation rather than altruism or co – operation ; in which case , the best we can hope for are more sophisticated internal and external controls on our supposedly innate drive towards accumulation and self – aggrandizement . Rousseau’s story about how humankind descended into inequality from an original state of egalitarian innocence seems more optimistic ( at least there was somewhere better to fall from ) , but nowadays it’s mostly deployed to convince us that while the system we live under might be unjust , the most we can realistically aim for is a bit of modest tinkering . The term ‘ inequality ’ is itself very telling in this regard . …
Something of a consensus has emerged among intellectuals and even , to some degree , the political classes that levels of social inequality have got out of hand , and that most of the world’s problems result , in one way or another , from an ever – widening gulf between the haves and the have – nots . … The term ‘ inequality ’ is a way of framing social problems appropriate to an age of technocratic reformers , who assume from the outset that no real vision of social transformation is even on the table . …
Debating inequality allows one to tinker with the numbers , argue about Gini coefficients and thresholds of dysfunction , readjust tax regimes or social welfare mechanisms , even shock the public with figures showing just how bad things have become ( ‘ Can you imagine ? The richest 1 per cent of the world’s population own 44 per cent of the world’s wealth ! ’ ) – but it also allows one to do all this without addressing any of the factors that people actually object to about such as ‘ unequal ’ social arrangements : for instance , that some manage to turn their wealth into power over others ; or that other people end up being told their needs are not important , and their lives have no intrinsic worth . … The ultimate effect of all these stories about an original state of innocence and equality , like the use of the term ‘ inequality ’ itself , is to make wistful pessimism about the human condition seem like common sense. …
D Graeber, D Wengrow, Dawn of Everything 2021 Ch1 Farewell to Humanity’s Childhood: Or, why this is not a book about the origins of inequality
just follow the money…
A Brief History of Equality by Thomas Piketty
The world’s leading economist of inequality presents a short but sweeping and surprisingly optimistic history of human progress toward equality despite crises, disasters, and backsliding. A perfect introduction to the ideas developed in his monumental earlier books.
It’s easy to be pessimistic about inequality. We know it has increased dramatically in many parts of the world over the past two generations. No one has done more to reveal the problem than Thomas Piketty. Now, in this surprising and powerful new work, Piketty reminds us that the grand sweep of history gives us reasons to be optimistic. Over the centuries, he shows, we have been moving toward greater equality.
Piketty guides us with elegance and concision through the great movements that have made the modern world for better and worse: the growth of capitalism, revolutions, imperialism, slavery, wars, and the building of the welfare state. It’s a history of violence and social struggle, punctuated by regression and disaster. But through it all, Piketty shows, human societies have moved fitfully toward a more just distribution of income and assets, a reduction of racial and gender inequalities, and greater access to health care, education, and the rights of citizenship. Our rough march forward is political and ideological, an endless fight against injustice. To keep moving, Piketty argues, we need to learn and commit to what works, to institutional, legal, social, fiscal, and educational systems that can make equality a lasting reality. At the same time, we need to resist historical amnesia and the temptations of cultural separatism and intellectual compartmentalization. At stake is the quality of life for billions of people. We know we can do better, Piketty concludes. The past shows us how. The future is up to us.
“But the varying monetary valuations of the different goods, such as real estate and stock prices, used to evaluate wealth and its distribution provide only an imperfect measure of property in terms of power and opportunity, and more generally the social value of goods for the multiple social actors concerned. Generally speaking, property should be conceived not as an absolute, atemporal right, but rather as a set of rights peculiar to each socio-historical context, a kind of “bundle of rights” making it possible to characterize the scope of the powers and capacities at the disposal of the various actors and stakeholders involved in this relation, whether they own property or not, collect a salary or not, or are members of local collectives or family groups. On the eve of the French Revolution, the aristocratic class, which at that time represented less than 1 percent of the population but more than 50 percent of the large private property owners, also had substantial fiscal, political, and jurisdictional privileges, so that its power (compared with bourgeois property owners) was not limited to the monetary value of its goods. The Revolution established equality before the law for all property owners, while at the same time radicalizing their right to dominate people who did not own property”
YouTube 2022 Trailer Capital in the 21st Century
In May 2020 a full-length documentary film based on Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century opened via virtual screenings at independent theaters across the United States. Based on the international bestseller by rock-star economist Thomas Piketty (which sold over three million copies worldwide and landed Piketty on Time’s list of most influential people), this captivating documentary is an eye-opening journey through wealth and power, a film that breaks the popular assumption that the accumulation of capital runs hand in hand with social progress, and shines a new light on today’s growing inequalities. Traveling through time, the film assembles accessible pop-culture references coupled with interviews of some of the world’s most influential experts delivering an insightful and empowering journey through the past and into our future.
- Read a New York Times Magazine “The Money Issue” interview with Thomas Piketty on why he thinks America is primed for wealth redistribution
- Listen to Professor Piketty’s conversation with Tyler Cowen (Marginal Revolution) on Cowen’s podcast, Conversations with Tyler [transcript]
- At the Irish Independent, read Piketty’s argument that “we are not doing enough to target the oligarchs”
- Read a New Statesman interview with Piketty on why he’s optimistic about the future of the (global) Left
- Read a Dagbladet Borsen interview with Piketty [in Danish]
- The Piketty phenomenon and the future of inequality Robert Wade download pdf
- Egalitarianism’s latest foe Yanis Varoufakis YVaroufakisArticle download pdf
- Piketty and the limits of marginal productivity theory Lars Syll download pdf
- Piketty’s determinism? Ann Pettifor and Geoff Tily download pdf
- Piketty’s global tax on capital Heikki Patomäki download pdf
- Reading Piketty in Athens Richard Parker download pdf
- Pondering Mexican hurdles while reading Capital in the XXI Century Alicia Puyana Mutis download pdf
- Piketty’s inequality and local versus global Lewis turning points Richard Koo download pdf
- The growth of capital Merijn Knibbe download pdf
- Piketty vs. the classical economic reformers Michael Hudson download pdf
- Is Capital in the Twenty-first century Das Kapital for the twenty-first century? Claude Hillinger download pdf
- Piketty and the resurgence of patrimonial capitalism Jayati Ghosh download pdf
- Unpacking the first fundamental law James K. Galbraith download pdf
- Capital and capital: The second most fundamental confusion Edward Fullbrook download pdf
- Piketty’s policy proposals: How to effectively redistribute income David Colander download pdf
- Piketty: Inequality, poverty and managerial capitalism Victor. A. Beker download pdf
The Asset Economy by Lisa Adkins, Melinda Cooper, Martijn Konings
Rising inequality is the defining feature of our age. With the lion’s share of wealth growth going to the top, for a growing percentage of society a middle-class existence is out of reach. What exactly are the economic shifts that have driven the social transformations taking place in Anglo-capitalist societies?
In this timely book, Lisa Adkins, Melinda Cooper and Martijn Konings argue that the rise of the asset economy has produced a new logic of inequality. Several decades of property inflation have seen asset ownership overshadow employment as a determinant of class position. Exploring the impact of generational dynamics in this new class landscape, the book advances an original perspective on a range of phenomena that are widely debated but poorly understood – including the growth of wealth inequalities and precarity, the dynamics of urban property inflation, changes in fiscal and monetary policy and the predicament of the “millennial” generation. Despite widespread awareness of the harmful effects of Quantitative Easing and similar asset-supporting measures, we appear to have entered an era of policy “lock-in” that is responsible for a growing disconnect between popular expectations and institutional priorities. The resulting polarization underlies many of the volatile dynamics and rapidly shifting alliances that dominate today’s headlines.
blogs.lse.ac.uk 3-2021 Book Review: The Asset Economy by Lisa Adkins, Melinda Cooper and Martijn Konings
lithub.com 14-2-2022 On Natural Wine, Inherited Money, and the Delusions of the “Future-Rich Millennial”- Lauren Carroll Harris on “The Asset Economy and the End of Social Mobility” by Lisa Adkins, Melinda Cooper and Martijn Konings
As I approached my mid-thirties, I noticed that a particular sliver of my contemporaries had stopped pretending to be broke, or poor, and started brazenly trying to join the professional managerial class. I had stuck around in privileged industries—media, the arts—for long enough to see some emergent lines of division furrow deeper, and to glimpse the complicated inner lives of the wealthy and will-be wealthy.
In the clinical, learned language of white collar, six-figure professionals, many of my peers had graduated to sipping natural wine and discussing the woes of influential journalists, writers, gatekeepers, editors, media managers, executives, high-end administrators, government officials, policymakers, political advisers, and public servants.
A few years ago, a colleague had complained that she was the only person in a particular circle who had attended “a public school” (it was, in fact, one of the state’s top-ranked, most prestigious and well-resourced schools). Another friend, who insisted she “grew up in poverty” in “a suburb with migrants” was poached to be an executive at a major transnational media company. These were often the very same media types writing op-eds about the intrinsic and miserable precarity of millennial life.
They had subsidized their way through various internships, contracts and freelance gigs into the ever-shrinking pool of salaried employment via the casual living arrangements of upper middle class youth that signal unearned money: living with their parents well into their twenties; living cheaply or freely in their parents’ spare houses and investment properties; always having people to borrow money from; staying on the family cell phone plan. Wealth and class advantage had provided them with far more catapult power than hard work or the education system ever could.
The Asset Economy presents hard new evidence for a disgusting truth: that wage labor is a scam.
Now, on social media, artists a few years younger than me were posting about the purchase of their “first home”—and neglecting to mention that their parents had supplied them with the down payment for their mortgage. When my peers talked of things like poverty, housing insecurity and family violence, it was with the flat authority and abstraction of a government report or nonprofit pamphlet—it was clear that these were theoretical social issues that happened “over there.” Their hobbies had changed too. Performed poverty was over; they were investing in restaurants, setting up fashion businesses based on “ethical” job creation in Africa, and joining art philanthropy circles.
I noticed another trend: several guilty millennials proudly refusing to accept early inheritances, which seemed to me just as privileged as accepting them. For some, there was a strange melancholy attached to the knowledge of a forthcoming inheritance. They knew, after all, that their windfalls were coming eventually, and that they could afford exorbitant rents in the meantime. I could barely imagine a poor or working class person turning down the chance to buy a heavily subsidized house. On the other side of the class divide, I saw friends without family money struggle to break the endless chain of casual academic contracts and twelve-month leases.
During this time, I was with my sister at an inner city pub, surrounded by her friends who worked at a local art museum. She leaned toward me, looked around and said quietly, “You realize that in this group, everyone’s parents own at least one house? And we’re the only ones whose parents don’t own property?” It felt like a conspiracy dawning in a bad 90s film. In realizing my own naivety, and that our lives were different, I was shattered. A thought hit: were my peers future-rich millennials?*
The pandemic hit and I retreated in order to see better what was going to come next in the world and where I might fit into it. In the long, odd sleep of isolation, I began to consume wild amounts of film, digital art, media and books delivered by mail or stream. I found that my nascent observations were mirrored, almost perfectly, by the analysis set out by three Australian academics in a book that has radically changed my attitude to work and wealth, The Asset Economy: Property Ownership and the New Logic of Inequality (Polity, 2020).
By Lisa Adkins, Melinda Cooper and Martijn Konings, The Asset Economy is an academic study of political-economy and sociological analysis that reads like a horror story. At the study’s heart is a question central to many of the cultural and generational battles of the present: Who is more advantaged today? A millennial set to inherit their parents’ four-bedroom property in ten years? Or a renting baby boomer approaching the tail of their retirement funds?
Combining generational and class analysis, the authors bust open the old lie that jobs, education and hard work still provide social mobility. Nor will merit or exceptionalism get you anywhere except a life in the rental market. Rather, only your inheritance and your ability to invest in assets that appreciate faster than wage rises will assure you a sound financial future. Not so disenfranchised, and living far outside the common narrative of hard-knock precarity, the world’s future landlords, multinational business owners, CEOs and media executives—a small but fiscally significant slice of the under-40 demographic—are already benefiting from life-boosting cash infusions from their parents.
The great wealth transfer of around $30 trillion dollars has already begun for geriatric millennials, and will soon spread to the younger slice of the cohort. Banks are already preparing for this demographic-shifting moment. Meanwhile, the contract between the state, capital, and unions has evaporated and incomes have atrophied. If the politics of austerity are anything to go by, the welfare state could be a historically fleeting phenomenon.
In “Toward a Labor Theory of Generation X,” Alissa G. Karl writes that “Gen X didn’t just get gloomy in the 90s. We also got jobs.” Wage labor has declined since then. Finance and speculation and property investment reign, and joining the investor class (and becoming a landlord) is the new path. There’ll be millennials who never get jobs. And let’s face it, jumping from contract to contract in the wake of organized labor’s decline isn’t looking like a great recipe for radicalism. But the less-narrativized story is that the top tier of millennials is about to get seriously rich, and that inequality manifests in a serious and structural manner within the millennial generation.
While the “boomers versus millennials” culture war can lean on cliché and false generalization, The Asset Economy shows that generational analysis matters insomuch as age affects asset ownership and financial status. Millennials are the first to live through an era in which asset ownership matters more than income and job mobility. A key difference between the 1970s—when austerity dawned and boomers began buying houses—and now, is that neoliberal policies began in a setting when property ownership was democratized, and depended on that reality. People could bear those policies because they, or someone in their family, were much more likely to have a house they owned. Housing ownership, as I was learning in real time, is key to this new phase of economic inequality.
“Not only does housing wealth beget housing wealth,” write Adkins et al, “progressively narrowing the pool of those able to enter the housing market, it also increasingly determines one’s future educational opportunities and hence one’s future earning potential and professional status.” We are spiraling. In Australia, where I live, this means that parental contributions to first home loans average “more than $89,000, an increase of nearly 20 percent in the past 12 months. It’s this private access to wealth that I had been witnessing for the past five years among my peers.
What fascinates me is that the authors of The Asset Economy are not talking about what anthropologist Dave Graeber called the 1 percent—the Trumps and the Murdochs, the very, very rich. What about the, say 19 percent of Americans in the upper-class income tier, who will defend their right to be landlords, to increase their unearned wealth through their investments? It’s been long observed, in the UK and US, that house ownership skews a person’s politics toward conservatism.
In Western society, you are what you own. It used to be that the only way to acquire property without labor was to marry; the plots of entire genres of literature were structured around this principle. Now, The Asset Economy presents hard new evidence for a disgusting truth: that wage labor is a scam. It matters, I’ve realized, because the rich really do run the world.
Naturally, new markets have sprung up to service those benefiting from the next wave of intergenerational wealth. …
…In my social circle, I see something beyond an ethical posture: natural wine as an aesthetic marker of millennials aging stylishly into mid life—becoming the cooler 30-somethings who go to the wine regions for weekends away as they grow into the next social scene. Far from the tradition of stuffy, white-linen-tablecloth establishments, the product—and the way that it’s marketed—summons visions of almost-rich kids pioneering a subculture and living in a way that’s connected to the land, but fueled by dad’s share and property money.
The greatest irony of this burgeoning market is that wine was inherently natural until the advent of mass industrialization and chemical agriculture. And yet today, the privilege of natural wine means that nothing at my biggest local liquor store is under $22. Not the most onerous price tag for the consumption of vogue-ish virtue. But which demographic is buying alcohol at premium prices? Who is it that thinks, “that’s a good deal”? Well, those who are fixed on trends, who have a lot of disposable income, and are a particular type of millennial—according to University of Palermo researchers and American, Chinese, UK, Australian and New Zealand trade presses.
Natural wine now stands as a signifier of tasteful, cool, knowledgeable consumerism. It is a delicious, differentiated product in a market of poisonous sludge. Its flavor is often referred to as alive and funky, notwithstanding the fact that alcohol is inherently funky, constituted as it is by fermented fruit sugars. Is the creation of this new, delineated market of on-trend wine not an absurd indication of our disconnect from traditional modes of living with and eating plants? Or should there be a “toxic industrial beverages” section, demarcated in liquor stores?
As the growth limits of free-market economies are approached, the logic of late-stage capitalism dictates that new markets must be identified and aggressively pursued. With natural wine, a win-win situation emerges. The drinkers get the social capital, and the liquor industry gets the actual capital. The natural ethos of the peasant counterculture is commodified by business culture and sold back to cashed-up consumers who are on the brink of losing their youth. Little wonder that the natural wine market will be worth an estimated US$30 billion by 2030. Such is the empty deliciousness of natural wine, the bereftness and arbitrariness of popular culture, and the wide open nature of the emergent ways to make money out of future-rich millennials.*
At this point, I must, in the interests of transparency, make a disclosure along the lines of what critic Amanda Hess calls the “obligatory paragraph.” I have, for all intents and purposes, married a future-rich millennial.
He was born onto the land in a settler-colonial colony. He now manages his family’s regenerative farm. Access to that land shapes his life; he is bound to be an inheritor. By some fluke of character, some mystery of personality, he is not caught up in the contemporary trap, all too common in the everything-is-problematic discourse of the moment, of performing hardship. He is not hell bent on cosplaying disadvantage. He is not bewitched by the self-rationalizing delusion that the privileged are other people, elsewhere. He knows he has won capitalism’s life lottery.
Of course, I’m completely biased, but Sam is an angel of chill and empathy. At first I thought, “maybe he can afford to be”—he’s descended from landowners. But it’s rather unusual for people to admit that their fortunes in life are structural, brought to them not by hard work or talent alone, but by inheritance. Such is the usual denialist psychology of the privileged.
Here’s the new contradiction of my life: my accidental escape from the gig economy and the welfare class has not arrived on account of social justice or political change. Marrying up should not be the sole way to stabilize your life. This is no way to create a fair society. I exist in a cross-class relationship, with all the cultural differences and chasms in worldview that come with it. Sam’s view of life is that it is full of wonder and awe and beauty; you picture your future, and that idealized picture materializes. My view of life is that it is chaos, and you flow with the mercy and whims of it while maintaining a modicum of dignity and self-determination.
Much of my life has been spent living on willpower and adrenaline; periods of sleepless suspension, in unstable work and strange accommodations. Now, in partnering upwards, my Faustian bargain involves some genuine asymmetries. I haven’t chosen, for example, where we live, and I have adopted his way of life. I have to avoid the female trope of being financially dependent on my male spouse. My future is contingent on his fortunes. But living rent-free in my in-laws’ second residence has been transformative, and I’m set to be a sideways beneficiary of the asset economy.
For many, the dominant lens to understand life in this society is identity, which can to an extent be a political category. But what if the question isn’t who are you, but what socioeconomic structures contain who you are? In posing these new questions, the authors of The Asset Economy restage the current generational warfare as class conflict. Our lives result from the historical forces that form us. I think I’m beginning to understand a little more about how this society works.
>inequality, property, class, positioning
Class, Assets and Work in Rentier Capitalism by Brett Christophers
brill.com/pdf 2021 Abstract: ‘Rentier capitalism’ is the term increasingly used to describe economies dominated by rentiers, rents, and rent-generating assets. A growing body of scholarship considers how the ownership of such assets by individuals and households is reshaping patterns of class and inequality and accordingly requires the reconceptualisation of the latter phenomena. The significance of company-owned assets and corporate rents for class, inequality and their conceptualisation has not been considered, however. This article offers an exploratory investigation along these lines, highlighting the importance of employees’ working relationship to company-owned, rent-generating assets for their class position. The article further reflects on how developments in this regard might be approached from the perspective of Marx’s writing on value, labour and class, and the challenges that those developments potentially pose to Marxian concepts.
Keywords: class; assets; work; value; rent; rentier capitalism
Poverty and widening inequality in Nigeria by Tade Oludayo
academia.edu 2020 “How can we use poverty and inequality gaps to understand the issues of governance, insecurity, and evolving social problems in Nigeria? In this piece, I attempt to show why it is important to reduce poverty rates and inequality in Nigeria, and the consequences of widening inequality in post-colonial Nigeria. Since the return to democratic governance in 1999, Nigeria has continued to witness a widening gulf between the minority haves and the majority have-nots. The populous Black nation of Nigeria has not been able toconvert her numerical strength into the development amongst the leading nations of the world. Worsening poverty and inequality have reshaped the landscape of governance and social relations, and inicted deadly blows to national security. Recognizing these impacts on realizing theSustainable Development Goals, Nigeria listed poverty and inequality as national security threats in her 2019 National Security Strategy. …
… The widening gap of poverty and inequality in Nigeria explains why it maybe a tall order for the populous Black country to meet the Sustainable Development Goals of eradicating unemployment, extreme poverty, andhunger. The privileged class holding the levers of power do not see the growing danger of an army of unemployed, distressed, and disconnected – those who will fight the very system which has failed to cater to it. To turn the tide, Nigeria needs to invest in publicly funded education,close the gap of inequality, and actively engage youths in productive economy. Beyond the role of the national government, state governments must localise development policy to capture the unmet needs of the poor.”
The Post Pandemic World – contents
- 4 Development, Democratization, and COVID-19 Interview with Professor Carles Boix
- 7 COVID-19 Pressures on Globalization and PoliticsInterview with Professor Suzanne Berger
- 10 The OIC World for a Safer Planet Ambassador Ali Goutali, Professor Anis H. Bajrektarevic.
- 13 From Growth to Basic Needs: Resetting Economic Priorities Professor Kenneth A. Reinert
- 15 Changes for the European Union in the Pandemic Aftermath? Interview with Stefan Lehne
- 18 Governance of the Global Environmental Crisis Post-COVID-19 Dr. Peter J.S. Jones and Professor Mark Maslin
- 22 Potential Impacts on Foreign Aid Interview with Professor Nitsan Chorev
- 27 Poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa Zachary Donnefeld
- 30 The COVID-19 Crisis: A Moment of Truth for Inequality Interview with Professor Alf Gunvald Nilsen
- 35 Poverty and Widening Inequality in Nigeria Dr. Oludayo Tade
- 37 The Pandemic’s Squeeze on International Trade Interview with Dr. Seema Gahlaut
- 41 Contact Tracing and Privacy Interview with Dr. Jennifer King
- 44 Surveillance and Individual Liberties in the Post-COVID-19 World Dr. Dale Mineshima-Lowe
- 46 COVID-19 Strains on Inequality Interview with Dr. José-Antonio Espín-Sánchez
- 48 The Coronavirus Pandemic and the Plague of Inequality Tim Bovy
- 53 Pandemic Effects on Peace Operations Interview with Dr. Nathaniel Allen
- 56 Will African Governments Survive the COVID-19? Professor Luka Kuol
- 60 Food Security During the Pandemic Interview with Dr. Esben Lunde Larsen
- 62 Could the New Four Trillion Stimulus Plan Save China’s Economy After the COVID-19 disaster? Dr. Tao Peng
- 65 COVID-19: Internal Security Threat? Traci Seltzer
- 67 Local Progress Towards Global Climate Success in a Post-Coronavirus Era Daniel Stockmal
- 69 The lighter side: Indigo Corona Logic Sam Ward
- 70 References and Notes
The Inequality Crisis, edited by Edward Fullbrook and Jamie Morgan
Contributions from: Holger Apel, Marshall Auerback, Dean Baker, Victor A. Beker, Geoff Crocker, Edward Fullbrook, James Galbraith and Jaehee Choi, Jayati Ghosh, Girol Karacaoglu , Richard C. Koo, Jamie Morgan, Ann Pettifor, Steven Pressman, Peter Radford, Erik S. Reinert, David F. Ruccio, Robert H. Wade, David A. Westbrook.
reviews – goodreads.com
These authors boldly stride where other economists toddle. Richard B. Norgaard
A collection of articles on the much-avoided subject of inequality – articles that are too revealing and too accessible to be accepted for publication by the complacent journals of the neoclassical cartel. Herman Daly
This is a magnificent collection of essays. It can and should be read by both undergraduate students and research economists. Inequality is the issue of our time. Thomas Palley –
Inequality has historically been neglected by economists (Atkinson 1997; Wade 2012; Eyler-Driscoll 2018; Cook and Opoku-Agyeman 2019). In the last decade-plus, however,economists have increased their focus on inequality (Fox 2016; Abrahamian 2018; Kleven 2018). The most obvious reason is the increase in income inequality in the U.S. in the past half-century (see, for example, Tcherneva 2015, Piketty, Saez, and Zucman 2016). Observers have also cited the impact on livelihoods of the financial crisis of 2007-2008 as a spur to this increased attention (Fox 2016), along with the political reactions to that crisis such as austerity politics and the occupy movement (Morgan 2020). Others argue that the election of Donald Trump in the U.S. and other right wing populist political movements have been connected to the failures of the global economic system, including inequality (Pettifor 2017),and that these phenomena may also have helped spur this newfound focus within the field. Other catalysts of change have come from within the profession itself, most notably the massive success and attention afforded Thomas Piketty’s (2013) Capital in the 21st Century,which created an impetus for response from critics and supporters alike (see, e.g., Boushey,DeLong, and Steinbaum 2019). Indeed, many of the essays in the volume reviewed hereinclude reactions to and critiques of Piketty’s work. Also relevant is the increased and easyaccess to data measuring inequality, beginning with Klaus Deininger and Lyn Squire’s (1996) international set of Gini coefficients 25 years ago. Among the central questions of The Inequality Crisis, a collection of essays published by the World Economics Association, is why inequality was relatively ignored for so long by economists, and the extent to which economics in its current form is equipped to explainin equality now. In his introduction to The Inequality Crisis, Edward Fullbrook discusses the inability of the economics profession to focus on the societal and ecological outcomes of the economic system, which include economic inequality.
Inequality – What Can Be Done? by Anthony B. Atkinson
Inequality is one of our most urgent social problems. Curbed in the decades after World War II, it has recently returned with a vengeance. We all know the scale of the problem—talk about the 99% and the 1% is entrenched in public debate—but there has been little discussion of what we can do but despair. According to the distinguished economist Anthony Atkinson, however, we can do much more than skeptics imagine.
Atkinson has long been at the forefront of research on inequality, and brings his theoretical and practical experience to bear on its diverse problems. He presents a comprehensive set of policies that could bring about a genuine shift in the distribution of income in developed countries. The problem, Atkinson shows, is not simply that the rich are getting richer. We are also failing to tackle poverty, and the economy is rapidly changing to leave the majority of people behind. To reduce inequality, we have to go beyond placing new taxes on the wealthy to fund existing programs. We need fresh ideas. Atkinson thus recommends ambitious new policies in five areas: technology, employment, social security, the sharing of capital, and taxation. He defends these against the common arguments and excuses for inaction: that intervention will shrink the economy, that globalization makes action impossible, and that new policies cannot be afforded. More than just a program for change, Atkinson’s book is a voice of hope and informed optimism about the possibilities for political action.
Tony Atkinson has done more than anyone else in helping us to understand the meaning of inequality, why it is important, how it has changed over time, and how it can be influenced. He is one of the great scholars of our time. Nicholas Stern, LSE
goodreadsSagheer Afzal 4* 2015 “I would have given this book five stars but for a glaring omision. Professor Atkinson very clearly gives his reasons for income equality in the UK and makes cogent proposals for alleviating the inequality. But he has totally neglected to mention the role of banks in helping create income equality. Especially the way banks pump excessive credit to household and inflate unsustainable bubbles in housing and other assets. Other than that; it is a very comprehensive book with solid proposal to reduce income equality.”
amazon review therealus – 5/ 5 – If only…
“[Atkinson] sets forth a list of concrete, innovative, and persuasive proposals meant to show that alternatives still exist, that the battle for social progress and equality must reclaim its legitimacy, here and now… Witty, elegant, profound, this book should be read.” – –Thomas Piketty, New York Review of Books
“An uncomfortable affront to our reigning triumphalists. [Atkinson’s] premise is straightforward: inequality is not unavoidable, a fact of life like the weather, but the product of conscious human behavior. Owen Jones, The Guardian
cairn-int.info/article–in-response-to-anthony-b-atkinson by François Bourguignon,
elgaronline.com Review by Michael Nagel and Achim Truger
concept.lib.ed.ac.uk 2015 Anthony B. Atkinson, Inequality: What can be done? Review by Nigel Hewlitt
Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass. 2015. 384 + xi pages.This book tells the narrative of the fall in social inequality after the second world warand its subsequent and continuing rise. It then proposes a set of policies to reverse the current trend, which could be implemented in the UK without undermining its capitalist economy. They include a more progressive income tax, with a top rate of 65%, a capital endowment paid to all citizens on their reaching adulthood and guaranteed public employment for job-seekers at the level of the living wage. Atkinson calculates that these measures would reduce the UK’s Gini coefficient (the Gini coefficient being one method for scoring a nation’s inequality) by 5.5%. He acknowledges that this is quite modest but stresses that adjustments to the tax and benefit systems, in the absence of any flattening of gross incomes or changes to capital ownership, could not achieve anything remarkable. He emphasises that any numbers quoted for inequality levels emerge from particular measurements performed on particular data and so are bound to be partial and incompletely reliable. Issues of measurement, and the quality of data, are important. Atkinson gives an example of two different articles in the same issue of the same economics journal, one of which quoted the USA and Japan as having a negligible difference between their Gini coefficents while the other claimed they differ by seven percentage points. Scoring methods and data reliability will take on even more importance if ever a government does try seriously to reverse the trend for increasing inequality. Then we will see a scramble to find data and measurements which put the best (or worst) construction on the results.Given that Atkinson is not a complete egalitarian (he claims, among other things, that pay differentials are necessary as an incentive to take on skilled or onerous employment), he should have explained more clearly why he thinks the current level of inequality in Britain is “excessive”. He explicitly refuses to state a level of inequality (in terms of the Gini coefficient, for example) that would meet his threshold of acceptability. However, there is certainly no doubting the sincerity of his commitment to less inequality (conceptual double negatives abound in this field) and it is good to see an academic book dedicated to “the wonderful people who work in the National Health Service” and a list of charities to which all royalties from the book will go.Atkinson’s politics are presumably social democratic, as seems to be the case with most researchers and theorists of social inequality. Marxist economists tend to be preoccupied with the questionof what causes capitalist crises but one of their number, Michael Roberts, has produced a slim volume of Essays on Inequality(Roberts, 2014), only a minority of which concern inequality as an alleged cause of crisis. Some readers may, like me, find his trenchantly expressed views on such things as pay differentials (“I doubt that the inequality of income between doctors and garbage collectors is necessary for either to do their jobs.”; p61) preferable to Atkinson’s. But for all their political differences, Roberts devotes a whole (and entirely appreciative) essay to one of Atkinson’s conference papers, beginning with this only slightly barbed accolade: “The world’s greatest economic expert on inequality of wealth and income is Tony Atkinson, or should Isay, Sir Anthony Atkinson.” (p35). His eminence is well deserved, I am sure, and his methods will be as applicable to post-capitalist as to capitalist societies. Changes over time to the inequality level will be an excellent means of measuring the success or otherwise of any future socialist government. – Reference: Roberts, M., 2014. Essays on inequality. Charleston: Self-published with CreateSpace.