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Like a Rosetta Stone for understanding the other political books,
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This review is from: The Price of Inequality: How Today's Divided Society Endangers Our Future (Hardcover)
Other reviewers describe The Price of Inequality as "gentlemanly," a "laying out of the facts," "explains all the elements ... from both sides," "an interesting look at what went wrong with today's economy." I think they're right about the tone Stiglitz sets in analyzing how we have gotten to this point, but really as he works through his analysis he goes quite far in placing blame. My only regret is in not having read this book first rather than some of the "political" books I read leading up to this one.
The metaphor that kept occurring to me was that this was like the Rosetta Stone that enabled scientists to finally figure out what Egyptian hieroglyphs meant. In a similar way Stiglitz's straightforward explanations about the economic causes and effects help to now better understand the arguments that other authors have been making about our current dysfunction. Where Mann & Ornstein and Dionne offer political and historical analyses; where Murray argues that the victims are to blame; where Hayes critiques the meritocracy; and where Mooney looks at conservative thinking scientifically -- all these books look at different aspects and consequences and they're all good books, but they don't get at the root cause of our problems the way The Price of Inequality does. Stiglitz is able to set the proper cause-and-effect context because he is a Nobel Prize for Economics winner, a policy-maker in the Clinton administration and at The World Bank, and he has had the advantage of working in global environments where assumptions were different than our own. The fact that he does this in a "gentlemanly" way makes it all the more thought-provoking.
But Stiglitz does get to the part where he assesses blame and he doesn't pull any punches when he describes how the banks and financial sector have been extremely effective at getting what they want. Where MSNBC and some of these other books imply that the Right has gone too far and that they are an endangered party, Stiglitz describes how they are actually representing the most powerful interests. And how they have convinced many that only if they -- the top 1 percent -- are successful, can the rest of us can then succeed as well.
He explains how the events of 2008--which demonstrated how precarious things had really become--have pushed us further toward inequality and how the courts, the Fed, the so-called "budget crisis," and media coverage are regrettably all in on the game. As paranoid as that might sound, Stiglitz carefully explains how that could have happened: "The Fed, of course, never set out to increase inequality--either by the benefits it proffered to those at the top or by what it did to those in the middle and the bottom. Indeed ... most of its board members probably truly believed that its policies--lax regulations, fighting inflation, helping banks that are so essential to the functioning of our economy--would promote growth from which all would benefit."
All of these books sound the alarm that something is wrong that needs to be fixed. Stiglitz gives us an insider root-cause view of what those things are. This is a hard read, requiring concentration and a calmness one needs to not get angry at the perpetrators. Hopefully over the next year as the candidates who effectively frame the problem of inequality emerge victorious from the 2012 campaign and election, we will start to recognize that a disappearing middle class must be addressed or we will never get back to growth and demand that will benefit the bottom, middle and--yes--the top layers of our economy and society, as well. Read this book to understand all the others.