The book provides a market-oriented focus, arguing that a just international economy would be one that is inclusive, participatory, and welfare-enhancing for all states. Rejecting radical redistribution schemes between rich and poor, Ethan Kapstein asserts that a politically feasible approach to international economic justice would emphasize free trade and limited flows of foreign assistance in order to help countries exercise their comparative advantage.
Kapstein also addresses justice in labor, migration, and investment, in each case defending an approach that concentrates on nation-states and their unique social compacts. Clearly written for all those with a stake in contemporary debates over poverty reduction and development, the book provides a breakthrough analysis of what the international community can reasonably do to build a global economy that works to the advantage of every nation.
It is now conventional wisdom to focus on the wealth of the top 1 percent—especially the top 0.01 percent—and how the ultra-rich are concentrating income and prosperity while incomes for most other Americans are stagnant. But the most important, consequential, and widening gap in American society is between the upper middle class and everyone else.
Reeves defines the upper middle class as those whose incomes are in the top 20 percent of American society. Income is not the only way to measure a society, but in a market economy it is crucial because access to money generally determines who gets the best quality education, housing, health care, and other necessary goods and services.
As Reeves shows, the growing separation between the upper middle class and everyone else can be seen in family structure, neighborhoods, attitudes, and lifestyle. Those at the top of the income ladder are becoming more effective at passing on their status to their children, reducing overall social mobility. The result is not just an economic divide but a fracturing of American society along class lines. Upper-middle-class children become upper-middle-class adults.
These trends matter because the separation and perpetuation of the upper middle class corrode prospects for more progressive approaches to policy. Various forms of “opportunity hoarding” among the upper middle class make it harder for others to rise up to the top rung. Examples include zoning laws and schooling, occupational licensing, college application procedures, and the allocation of internships. Upper-middle-class opportunity hoarding, Reeves argues, results in a less competitive economy as well as a less open society.
Inequality is inevitable and can even be good, within limits. But Reeves argues that society can take effective action to reduce opportunity hoarding and thus promote broader opportunity. This fascinating book shows how American society has become the very class-defined society that earlier Americans rebelled against—and what can be done to restore a more equitable society.
The contributors—leading scholars of development and social policy—use detailed case studies to examine whether the emerging economies are likely to move toward European-style welfare systems, characterized by high unemployment benefits and large entitlements, or if they will opt for more austere, stripped-down welfare regimes. They find that much will depend on how well emerging economies perform economically, but that the political forces, ideological preferences, and historical backgrounds of each country will also play a decisive role. In his chapter on Central and Eastern Europe, Peter Lindert focuses on how aging populations and the fall of communism have fostered increased need for social assistance in the region. In contrast, Nancy Birdsall and Stephen Haggard highlight the positive role of democratization and Western-style social programs in promoting East Asian social policies. Zafiris Tzannatos and Iqbal Kaur argue that governments in North Africa and the Middle East must foster both human capital formation and competition in the market for social services if they are to meet the growing need for services.
When Markets Fail presents some evidence that a global convergence in social policies may be taking place: as Europe slowly makes its welfare provisions less generous, the emerging market economies will be under increasing demographic and political pressure to make their social welfare systems more comprehensive. The book also examines the vital role that organizations such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the Asian Development Bank can play in fostering effective social services in developing economies.
Economic globalization and political liberalization have produced many economic winners around the world, but these forces have created losers as well. When Markets Fail addresses the problem of how governments in developing countries have responded to the plight of those losers through social policy. The success of these policies, however, remains sharply contested, as is their role in helping to achieve meaningful poverty reduction. When Markets Fail is essential reading for anyone interested in economic liberalization and its consequences for the developing world.