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Equality and Efficiency: The Big Tradeoff Paperback – May 1, 1975


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 124 pages
  • Publisher: Brookings Institution Press (May 1, 1975)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0815764758
  • ISBN-13: 978-0815764755
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.5 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #84,880 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

I love this short book and re-read it every 5 years or so.
Jay Karimi
I think it is a must read in any college economics, sociology, policy class, and maybe even in advanced high school settings.
Nestor Rodriguez
This is a very readable way to get thinking about this subject or find others writing clearly summarized.
Mr. Nathaniel Singer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 35 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 4, 2002
Format: Paperback
This short book is nearing its thirtieth birthday, and in spots it shows its age. Its many references to U.S. income levels, for example, have to be (roughly) quadrupled to reflect current patterns.
Nonetheless, this is an extremely clear introduction to one of the central political and economic issues of the past century: To what extent should government (and more broadly, society) pursue economic equality? Okun is at his best in pointing out the tradeoffs that both liberals and conservatives must face. Okun argues that with some exceptions, pursuing a great deal of equality will cost society a great deal of efficiency for four reasons: there are fewer incentives for the working rich, fewer incentives for the working poor, less capital investment by the rich, and more administrative costs. On the other hand, singlemindedly pursuing efficiency will cost society a great deal of equality, with the rich getting richer and the poor poorer. Okun clarifies why the tradeoff exists through clever uses of metaphors, most notably his famous "leaks in the (transfer) bucket." Okun ultimately chooses a relatively liberal tradeoff that favors equality, but he always acknowledges the other side's arguments because, like most economists, he respects the powerful efficiency of well-working markets.
Just as interestingly, Okun also discusses cases when we all-- liberal and conservative alike-- may agree to emphasize equality. Voting, trials, and other forms of political life, for example, are areas where we all might wish that government (and its propensity for equality, treating all of us as equal) would prevail over the market (and its propensity for inequality, giving some individuals much more influence than others).
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Jay Karimi on August 27, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I love this short book and re-read it every 5 years or so. I would recommend any one interested in the social sciences to have a copy of this book in their library. I always wondered why Arthur Okun did not author more books, and then I realized that, sadly, he passed away at a relatively early age. Okun was a master of analogies. His magnum opus in this arena was: "The money must be carried from the rich to the poor in a leaky bucket. Some of it will simply disappear in transit, so the poor will not receive all the money that is taken from the rich". Well said, Dr. Okun!
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Rufus Burgess on February 18, 2010
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In "Equality and Efficiency: The Big Tradeoff" Arthur Okun explains why both the state and the market is needed for an equitable and efficient society.

The First three chapters follow in the vein of John Locke's "Second Treatise on Government" and Milton Friedman's "Capitalism and Freedom". The fourth chapter explains the famous "leaky bucket" analogy that so many professors like. Given the current situation of our country the elimination of poverty is within our grasp.

Okun has two central themes:
1. The Market needs a place
2. The market needs to be kept in it's place.

"Equality and Efficiency" is a short and worthwhile read for anyone interested in economics or politics.
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15 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Mr. Nathaniel Singer on July 5, 2004
Format: Paperback
I'm writing this review horrified that this book currently has only 3 stars (hopefully my vote will change that). I care because it is a VERY good book, extremeley and interesting and extremely relevant to the functionality of our society.
I cannot think of many things that are more important to how our society functions than the issues surrounding equality. This is a very readable way to get thinking about this subject or find others writing clearly summarized.
Thinking has developed slightly since this books was written, but the overall ideas still hold. Highly recommended.
Don't be dissuaded from reading this book by someone who read it because they had to. Bad teachers can make anything a miserable experience.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Klasse on August 26, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Many interesting examples how our country could probably be more efficient and livable with a bigger middle class that is now fast disappearing in USA.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By David on April 1, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is an interesting book, and has proven to be a classic in the field, but it's nothing too exciting. The author's basic point is summarized in the title (public policy faces a tradeoff between economic efficiency and the equal allocation of resources) and is not really that controversial. His policy recommendations are often somewhat dated, but still make worthwhile reading.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Sagar Jethani on December 25, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Okun clarifies the issues surrounding the tradeoff between equality and efficiency, rather than taking a firm position on the issue of how much society should exchange one for the other. Was rather hoping for a more spirited point-of-view than this highly-academic elucidation of the issue. Reading this will illustrate just how extreme the Republican party has moved since the book's original publication in the mid-1970's.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Paul on March 7, 2010
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Although I read this book almost fifteen years ago (as part of an economics course), it still influences my thinking to this day. The reader walks away with the ability to break down almost any political problem into component issues that will be used by opposite sides in a debate. Although the material is very dated now, the skills imparted are useful for thinking through any modern political issue.
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