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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars YOU DON'T LEARN LESS, May 21, 2009
This review is from: Unjust Deserts: How the Rich Are Taking Our Common Inheritance (Hardcover)
The purpose of this book, as I see it, is to make the case that the vast disparity in wealth between the richest and poorest citizens is wildly disproportionate to their contributions and is therefore unjust. The case is built by
carefully documenting how technology and knowledge generally are cumulative over time, so that inventors or enterpreneurs stand on the shoulders of the entire history of their predecessors and make only a small marginal contribution to innovation. If the authors had a sense of humor, they might have entitled the book: "You Don't Learn Less".

In format, the book reads like a cross between a doctoral dissertation chapter reviewing the relevant literature and a legal brief. The authors want to convince readers of their thesis that the accumulated resources in technology , infrastructure, education, dissemination, et al are in effect a free lunch for would-be innovators. To make sure we understand this fairly obvious point, they assiduously mention almost everyone, especially Nobel Prize winners, who ever had a similar or supporting thought, not unlike a legal brief citing any previous case with a supportive or even tangential holding. I felt I was being submitted to an intellectual bludgeoning when they pretty much had me at hello.

The corollary to their main thesis is since society has produced most of the necessary conditions for innovation, society, not the innovator, should get most of the recompense. Since this is the most controversial part, I wish the authors had spent more time addressing possible objections. Their one foray into this terrain is to observe that our highest growth rate in US history was obtained with a top marginal tax rate of 91%, but the concern about curtailing incentives runs deeper and broader. This is a country where millions of poor and middle class people reliably vote for a party that blatantly favors the rich. I'm afraid "Unjust Deserts" will not dent that doleful reality.

The main value of the book is that it gathers in one slim volume all the arguments and all the opinions that support their observation about the true source and process of innovation and the implication of who should benefit. It places a firm intellectual stake in the ground for future discussions about what they call "distributive justice". The book is heavy going: you really have to put on your hip boots and wade in. But to reap a harvest, someone's got to do the plowing and plant the seeds. Personally, I feel grateful to the authors for making the effort.
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