We all have the sense that the American economy—and its government—tilts toward big business, but as Joseph E. Stiglitz explains in his new book, People, Power, and Profits, the situation is dire. A few corporations have come to dominate entire sectors of the economy, contributing to skyrocketing inequality and slow growth. This is how the financial industry has managed to write its own regulations, tech companies have accumulated reams of personal data with little oversight, and our government has negotiated trade deals that fail to represent the best interests of workers. Too many have made their wealth through exploitation of others rather than through wealth creation. If something isn’t done, new technologies may make matters worse, increasing inequality and unemployment.
Stiglitz identifies the true sources of wealth and of increases in standards of living, based on learning, advances in science and technology, and the rule of law. He shows that the assault on the judiciary, universities, and the media undermines the very institutions that have long been the foundation of America’s economic might and its democracy.
Helpless though we may feel today, we are far from powerless. In fact, the economic solutions are often quite clear. We need to exploit the benefits of markets while taming their excesses, making sure that markets work for us—the U.S. citizens—and not the other way around. If enough citizens rally behind the agenda for change outlined in this book, it may not be too late to create a progressive capitalism that will recreate a shared prosperity. Stiglitz shows how a middle-class life can once again be attainable by all.
An authoritative account of the predictable dangers of free market fundamentalism and the foundations of progressive capitalism, People, Power, and Profits shows us an America in crisis, but also lights a path through this challenging time.
The United States is becoming a nation of rich and poor, with few families in the middle. In this book, MIT economist Peter Temin offers an illuminating way to look at the vanishing middle class. Temin argues that American history and politics, particularly slavery and its aftermath, play an important part in the widening gap between rich and poor. Temin employs a well-known, simple model of a dual economy to examine the dynamics of the rich/poor divide in America, and outlines ways to work toward greater equality so that America will no longer have one economy for the rich and one for the poor.
Many poorer Americans live in conditions resembling those of a developing country—substandard education, dilapidated housing, and few stable employment opportunities. And although almost half of black Americans are poor, most poor people are not black. Conservative white politicians still appeal to the racism of poor white voters to get support for policies that harm low-income people as a whole, casting recipients of social programs as the Other—black, Latino, not like "us." Politicians also use mass incarceration as a tool to keep black and Latino Americans from participating fully in society. Money goes to a vast entrenched prison system rather than to education. In the dual justice system, the rich pay fines and the poor go to jail.
Demonstrating that in a globalized world it becomes harder to separate out the factors leading to domestic or international inequality, Bourguignon examines each trend through a variety of sources, and looks at how these inequalities sometimes balance each other out or reinforce one another. Factoring in the most recent economic crisis, Bourguignon investigates why inequality in some countries has dropped back to levels that have not existed for several decades, and he asks if these should be considered in the context of globalization or if they are in fact specific to individual nations. Ultimately, Bourguignon argues that it will be up to countries in the developed and developing world to implement better policies, even though globalization limits the scope for some potential redistributive instruments.
An informed and original contribution to the current debates about inequality, this book will be essential reading for anyone who is interested in the future of the world economy.
Inequality is a choice.
The United States bills itself as the land of opportunity, a place where anyone can achieve success and a better life through hard work and determination. But the facts tell a different story—the U.S. today lags behind most other developed nations in measures of inequality and economic mobility. For decades, wages have stagnated for the majority of workers while economic gains have disproportionately gone to the top one percent. Education, housing, and health care—essential ingredients for individual success—are growing ever more expensive. Deeply rooted structural discrimination continues to hold down women and people of color, and more than one-fifth of all American children now live in poverty. These trends are on track to become even worse in the future.
Some economists claim that today’s bleak conditions are inevitable consequences of market outcomes, globalization, and technological progress. If we want greater equality, they argue, we have to sacrifice growth. This is simply not true. American inequality is the result of misguided structural rules that actually constrict economic growth. We have stripped away worker protections and family support systems, created a tax system that rewards short-term gains over long-term investment, offered a de facto public safety net to too-big-to-fail financial institutions, and chosen monetary and fiscal policies that promote wealth over full employment.