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The Matthew Effect: How Advantage Begets Further Advantage First Edition Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
In the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus says, To anyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away. Based on this enigmatic statement, the sociologist Robert K. Merton labeled the tendency of the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer the Matthew effect. St. Mary's University sociology professor Rigney (The Metaphorical Society) presents evidence from science, technology, the economy, politics, public policy, education, and culture to show that, generally speaking, this dynamic is so strong that it might be considered a social law: initial advantages position one for further advantages. The writing is terse, cataloguing study after study in a few paragraphs to establish the tendency of inequality to grow with the passage of time. A concluding chapter examines the ethical and policy implications of Matthew effects—for example, should socially disadvantaged students be given more aid than the advantaged? Rigney's summary of the latest research findings should contribute to a much needed discussion between policy makers, social scientists, and the general public. (Feb.)
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Rigney's summary of the latest research findings should contribute to a much needed discussion between policy makers, social scientists, and the general public. (Publishers Weekly)
[A] cogent book. (Steven Poole Guardian)
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Dr. Rigney does a decent job at presenting both sides. While it was clear to me (especially in the concluding chapter) that he is politically liberal, I appreciated his attempt at even-handedness. He acknowledges that the Matthew Effect is often unintentional rather than automatically blaming the evil machinations by those who have power to deliberately oppress the powerless. Karl Marx comes under criticism as well as Adam Smith. He also discusses some of the social factors that have contributed to the increase in household income inequality in the U.S. such as immigration, the decline of the nuclear family, and so on.
Where "The Matthew Effect" is the weakest is in the discussion of relative vs. absolute Matthew Effects. On page 41, Dr. Rigney writes: "Consider the practice of assigning wage and salary increases based on across-the-board percentages. Suppose that a secretary making $20,000 per year and an executive making $200,000 per year both receive a 5% increase for three successive years. While they receive an equal rate of increase, the secretary's salary over three years has increased by $3,153. The executive's salary, meanwhile, has increased by $31,153, larger than the secretary's entire annual salary." He goes on to categorize this as "unfair" but from my perspective giving a flat dollar amount raise would be grossly unfair. If the secretary and the executive each received a flat $3k raise, that would represent a 15% raise to the secretary but only a 1.5% raise to the executive. Dr. Rigney fails to make a compelling case as to why we should be upset by relative Matthew Effects such as the executive and secretary both receiving a 5% raise.
All in all, I found "The Matthew Effect" to be well-written, interesting, and worth reading.
Now, an Orthodox Christian told me these passages referred to faith- that the more faith you had the more faithful you would be and the less faith you had the less you would receive, et., etc.
But, the original words of the scripture were not actually recorded until perhaps sixty years after the death of the historical Jesus. The original words would have been passed down orally, told and retold, then copied and recopied, perhaps miscopied, or altered to confirm with the convictions of the scribe or the sect in charge of the compilation, and later codified by religious authorities who wished to rule over us in their own prescribed fashions.
However, all this does not really matter in the context of the "Matthew Effect." The scripture is used by the political right to justify their wealth and denigrate those who have less, and the term is used by Daniel Rigney to describe social, political, and economic forces that affect us in the personal, national, and international arena.
To summarize the book: Advantages tend to beget advantages, and disadvantages tend to beget disadvantages. To counter the song that squeals only in America could a poor boy like me become a millionaire, Rigney states that everyone in America does not have an equal chance to succeed. It is more probable that one goes from rags to rags or from riches to riches (pp. 7-8). Some are born to advantages and others to disadvantages.
Those who value social inequality regard the Matthew Effect as beneficial (p.91).
And, ah, the world is not fair (pp. 95-96).
The book makes many good and concise observations concerning the economic, educational, and social aspects of the United States.
Daniel Rigney's book deserves a wide and thoughtful reading worldwide, but, given the current astuteness of the average U.S. citizen, it will be easily downed out by five minutes of conservative talk radio.
It would seem, for the most part at least, the fortunes of the fortunate and the misfortunes of the unfortunate are not deserved by either party (p. 104).
I would certainly rather have Daniel Rigney as my pastor , rather than individuals who point out how we should be subservient to our masters. I would also wish that my representatives local, state, and federal would read this book and really think it over.
Includes copious notes, bibliography, and index.
Haven't read the book so gave it 3 stars to be fair, but questionable use of quote is a negative IMO.