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Inequality: What Can Be Done? Paperback – January 22, 2018
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“[Atkinson] does not mind speaking uncomfortable truths. Among them: that the comfort and opportunity provided by wealth matter just as much as the consumption that wealth affords; that holding down a job may not be enough to provide most workers with a standard of living that keeps up with economic growth; and that economic power helps protect itself in subtle and pervasive ways which might well demand an interventionist government response. Sir Anthony’s answer might not be the right one. But if his book reminds the reader how far out of fashion the policies of the post-war decades have fallen, it also conveys how skewed the economy of today might look to an observer from the not so distant past―or, perhaps, from the not so distant future.”―The Economist
“Like it or loathe it, this is ambitious stuff.”―Tim Harford, Financial Times
“Atkinson’s book is magisterial. It is the definitive analysis of inequality in Britain and how to reduce it, as viewed through the standard professional economics prism of Utilitarianism. While grounded in sophisticated theory and state-of-the-art quantitative evidence, the book carries through to specific policy recommendations on standard matters such as tax rates, benefits and tax reliefs.”―Paul Collier, Times Literary Supplement
“Provides us with the broad outlines of a new radical reformism… [Atkinson] sets forth a list of concrete, innovative, and persuasive proposals meant to show that alternatives still exist, that the battle for social progress and equality must reclaim its legitimacy, here and now… Witty, elegant, profound, this book should be read: it brings us the finest blend of what political economy and British progressivism have to offer… This is a book written by an optimist and a citizen of the United Kingdom, Europe, and the world: the broad sense it conveys of a more just economy is one of its many appealing qualities. It will stand as a model whatever the outcome of one election or another.”―Thomas Piketty, New York Review of Books
“Atkinson is a first-rate economist who long ago mastered the orthodoxy, and so is well-placed to take it to bits. Patiently, he explains why excessive profits may not be competed away, and why laissez-faire cannot be relied on to get the most out of every resource… Atkinson also has a keen sense of history. He explains how anti-trust laws in the U.S., nowadays narrowly justified in efficiency terms, were originally born out of concerns about fairness. He highlights, too, how the course of industrial technology has often been set by the planners’ guiding hand. All this helps him break out of the frighteningly narrow terrain that economists concede to public policy.”―Tom Clark, The Guardian
“Though it has not attracted the celebrity attention, in many respects Atkinson’s [Inequality] is more important than Thomas Piketty’s pathbreaking Capital in the Twenty-First Century, and is the perfect sequel. Where Piketty explained the tendency of wealth and income to concentrate, Atkinson digs deeper into what drove this shift and why conventional remedies will not reverse the trends. He has a far surer grasp than Piketty of the political dynamics that made possible the anomalous egalitarian era of the 30 glorious years after World War II.”―Robert Kuttner, American Prospect
“Atkinson knows his stuff. He understands arguments used by free marketeers (largely successfully) to marginalize inequality as a front-and-center issue… This is why Atkinson devotes much space in Inequality to rebutting these arguments and asserting that tackling the rich–poor divide should, and can, be a priority… By presenting a strategic combination of new and established ideas, Atkinson shows why addressing the growing pervasiveness of inequality in the twenty-first century requires a sustained attack on many fronts. It also requires seeing economics not just as a debate about numbers but as a debate about people… Atkinson shows what might be possible if we stretch our collective imagination and focus on innovative ways to address what is emerging as the defining issue of our time.”―Mark Triffitt, Australian Book Review
“One of the world’s leading economists, mentor of Piketty and associate of Stiglitz, has written this accessible overview of why inequality matters, and why we need a series of urgent policies to tackle it. You don’t need to be an economist to appreciate this impressive synthesis of his life’s thinking and work.”―Mike Savage, Big Issue
“Inequality is a real accomplishment. It represents the first comprehensive, realistic, and detailed proposal for countering growing economic inequality―and it’s done not by some energetic graduate student but by a seasoned economist who’s been working on these issues for more than forty years.”―Daniel K. Finn, Commonweal
About the Author
- ASIN : 0674979788
- Publisher : Harvard University Press; Reprint edition (January 22, 2018)
- Language: : English
- Paperback : 400 pages
- ISBN-10 : 9780674979789
- ISBN-13 : 978-0674979789
- Item Weight : 14.4 ounces
- Dimensions : 6.25 x 1 x 9.5 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #791,021 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
"A timely novel highlighting the worth and delicate nature of Nature itself." -Delia Owens Learn more
Top reviews from the United States
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Wait, not the book, but the fact that some have much more than others and that it is truly impossible to justify that in terms of hard work - whatever that means.
Inequality has been the elephant in the room that was ignored for so long until Piketty blew up for some reason last year. It's weird how that happens in the culture. I bought Piketty’s book Capital on pre-order and only got about 100 pages in,. By the time I actually got the book, I had read so many blogs going back and forth over it that I had felt like I had already read it.
Anthony B. Atkinson’s book, “Inequality: What can be done?” didn’t get the same attention when it came out in 2015, and I’m not sure why not. Maybe the bloggers on both sides had decided that it was time to look at something else - secular stagnation, when will the Fed achieve liftoff from the zero lower bound, is the Phillips curve still a thing. Or maybe because Atkinson’s book felt a little less universal than Piketty with his laws so that people could argue if r was less than, greater than, or equal to g. Either way, the fact that people didn’t let this book blow up in the same way is shameful, because it is more straightforward and systematic and economical with the prose. If anything, it fails because it is less grandiose than Piketty, looking at changes that can be made at the national level instead of some global wealth tax. Instead he has a constellation of proposals and an examination of their feasibility and potential cost. If anything for popular American readers, it might be seen as a bit dry and a bit too focused on somewhere that is not America, but the proposals are transferable. Importantly though, Atkinson doesn’t leave his proposals as the definitive answer, accepting that the economy exists in flux with many variables - making his work not just some answers but a jumping off point for further discussion, We just have to be brave enough to join that discussion.
Atkinson’s proposals for action and reform are not merely fiscal or purely political. His appears to be a multi-prong approach and thus merits serious study. In theory, this might have been a nice plan but his proposals may lead one to query the practicality of his views. He has a basic socialist approach in which he advocates greater government action such as creating a national pay policy with minimum wage, a capital endowment paid to all adults, progressive tax, and social insurance, but at the same time he also believes in continued social security contributions. The only problem with his admirable plan in creating a fairer distribution of wealth is that we have first to create sufficient wealth in those countries in which equality has little significance because everyone is mired in poverty. Francois Bourguinon's book, 'The Globalization of Inequality', 2015 Princeton University Press, may be a good companion to Atkinson's book. The stark reality is that good ideas about equality require strong government, but in capitalist countries, a government is as strong as its political base. There are no easy answers.
Top reviews from other countries
Why it matters includes, inter alia, intrinsic and instrumental reasons for concerns about inequality. On the intrinsic side is both a broad idea of justice coupled with a simple statement of economic thought from Hugh Dalton based on the idea of utility: when you transfer a pound from a rich person to a poor person, the poor person’s utility is raised, whereas the rich person’s utility is not lowered, thus raising aggregate utility for society as a whole. On the instrumental side are concerns for outcomes for society as a whole in terms of a lack of social cohesion, increased crime, ill-health and so on. Echoing Thomas Piketty (Capital in the Twenty-First Century) and Francois Bourguignon (The Globalisation of Inequality), Atkinson shows how inequality has grown since the second world war, partly because the institutions that grew out of the social solidarity that the first half of the twentieth century produced have been shrinking in more recent years, probably starting from the elections of Thatcher and Reagan.
In the second section Atkinson puts forward fifteen proposals for action, plus five ideas to pursue. These include adoption of policies aimed at boosting technological advancement, reducing unemployment and assuring workers are paid a wage commensurate with maintaining a decent standard of living. Some are radical, some look like proposals that have already been on the table. Atkinson accepts that none is straightforward and discusses some potential issues. One I think he missed, relating to his idea of providing a capital endowment to all on reaching adulthood, is how to avoid dubious practice in the financial industry, in a similar way to payday loans, whereby before coming of age a recipient may take out a loan at usurious interest rates. However, in a book for the general reader of only 300 pages it is difficult to cover all the details.
The final section discusses implementation and benefits. I found this the least well-expressed section. In the same way as Atkinson reduces each proposal to a short statement, so his refutations of the conventional “wisdom” that often acts as a brake on progressive ideas could have been stated more simply up front before entering into the detail. I suspect that here as in a few other places he lacked strong editorship, perhaps the reason why “expence” slips in a couple of times and the expression “there is no smoking gun” is used where I suspect he meant there is no silver bullet. However, on the strong side he demonstrates that implementation of just five of his proposals would, for the UK, reduce inequality as measured by the Gini coefficient. I also felt his case against certain provisions in the TTIP agreement is better made than that of Owen Jones in The Establishment, mostly that whilst it makes plenty of provisions for investors and corporations it makes none for consumers and workers.
Overall then a worthwhile read, giving substance to the case against inequality, providing strong economic principles on which to build the case, and doing some of the cost-benefit legwork needed to satisfy the bean counters. Nevertheless, as good an argument as Atkinson advances, I have little hope that the current government is about to implement any of his proposals in the next five years.
Oh, and just incidentally, one of the items Atkinson discusses is the issue of “uncompetitive” wage demands in the UK. As he points out, when housing prices, whether to buy or let, are so high, then people quite rationally will attempt to maximise their wages to pay for accommodation. Thinking about it, the premium on housing in the UK is worse than any formal tax; it is in practical terms a stealth tax imposed by the failed policy of selling off social housing and inability to keep up with growing demand. It’s a market failure; as usual the knight in shining armour, also known as the market, has not ridden in as predicted. Build more houses, bring down prices, reduce the need for spiralling wage increases. Unfortunately it gets complicated once you think of the potential for trapping more people in negative equity. Thus successive governments’ abysmal record on housing since the 1980s has painted us into a corner. As the joke goes, I wouldn’t start from here.
Invariably any economist is bought into the economist’s world view. This book is no exception, and there is a fair amount of formula, number crunching, and assuming that we are all rational creatures guided by an invisible hand of best pursuing economic advantage.
Accordingly I was not entirely convinced by many of the policy proposals, particularly the notion that we set up a sovereign wealth fund, is this instead of paying off the national debt?
This is probably quite a heavy read for some folk, but it is thoughtful, thorough, and for the most part clear and sensible.