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Unjust Deserts: How the Rich Are Taking Our Common Inheritance Hardcover – October 17, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Riddled with references to economists John Stuart Mill and Adam Smith, this book reads more like an academic treatise than an appeal aimed at the general public. Alperovitz (America Beyond Capitalism) and Daly (God and the Welfare State) make the provocative argument that if today's worker is more productive and his methods are more extensive, it's due to the accumulation of hundreds of years of work done by previous generations. Modern engineers, for example, are only more productive because they build on the design problems solved during the past century. Since a society shares a history, the authors contend, we should all reap the benefits of this progress and the wealth accumulated by it; the reality, of course, is a grave disparity in wealth and resources. Alperovitz has written several works used as textbooks in economics courses (Atomic Diplomacy), but this work lacks the readability necessary for mainstream audiences-the very audience that the author should have appealed to.
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...convincingly demonstrates that knowledge is the primary source of our national wealth - Bill Moyers
Unjust Deserts reveals the untold story of wealth creation in our time. - Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed; and Chuck Collins, Director of Inequality and the Common Good
The viewpoint presented in this important and provocative book should alter the current public discourse on income distribution. - Kenneth Arrow, Nobel Prize Winner in Economics, 1972
Their timely, deftly argued book redefines our vision of the common good. - Jacob S. Hacker, Professor of Political Science, Yale University
This is one of the most original and most intelligent works on economic justice I have read in many years. - Michael Kazin, author of A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan and Professor of History, Georgetown University
...deeply informed and carefully argued study of the social and historical factors that enter into creative achievement… - Noam Chomsky
Unjust Deserts is an elegant work of moral philosophy… - James K. Galbraith, Professor of Government, The University of Texas at Austin
Agree or disagree, you will see the world differently after you have read this book. - William A. Galston, Senior Fellow, The Brookings Institution
The moral conclusion is unmistakable: society itself is the source of wealth, and all of us deserve an equal share. - Howard Zinn
...authors strike upon a vital topic when they highlight the need for the benefits from productivity gains to be shared… (Mark Engler - The Nation)
Deliciously subversive. The authors lace their narrative with fascinating asides… and statistics that give their story plenty of dramatic oomph. (Too Much)
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This book offers up a valuable potential `society changing' idea whose time has come. The hard part is in deciding whether to honor the clear facts and heed the logic that the historical facts and philosophy would suggest
The facts are that the miracle of modern engineering and economic advance is not all modern, though some of it is. Our modern new gadgets and inventions are modern adaptations and improvements to ancient developments. The computer of today results from the abacus, and math concepts and electrical wizardry of previous generations, developed largely through combinations of past genius and government support of yore. They are refinements of electrical calculating machines from scores of years past. They use silicon chips that were decades in discovery and improvement.
The free market did not develop such developments alone, nor did sole genius. Government money financed much the R&D for wartime and other government needs. The societal infrastructure was essential in the development process over centuries.
The same logic holds for airplanes of aluminum, and for the development of and aluminum extraction and alloys in general. The beginning of our use of aluminum goes back to Archimedes day. It took government expense of large sources of electricity resulting from government projects like Hoover dam to supply electricity in huge quantity before aluminum could be widely extracted from clay and used to develop modern light weight air frames
It also took large scale public investment to develop and design many other features used by modern aviation to improve efficiency so that the planes can fly and perform sufficiently well to meet commercial and military needs.
The stories abound with the authors giving credit to social groups including government for many developments that came to us through the gifts of history
Rarely do the claimed genius inventors deserve credit for their inventions. Alexander Bell for example was a genius but so were others who simultaneously invented telephone. Bell won a race to the patent office, and so fame but only at the expense of failing o give credit to others who made progress lo this end long before he did. That would include inventor discoveries of electricity like Benjamin Franklin.
A vast majority of our modern technological, medical, aviation and similar developments trace their capacity back to a wide range of historical discovery such as math, geometry, language, government standards of measures, legal systems that protect rights and so allow developers to assert their energy and talent with faith that their inventions will be protected from interlopers who claim the benefits.
The publicly financed schools, colleges, libraries, trade and professional journals all play important roles in the creative effort. They do so at public expense. Yet the public gets no direct credit or remuneration for their contribution. Since the public includes most of us, and our ancestors from whom we inherit, the question is raised, should the public at large get any portion of the largess since the public advances of history have made our modern industrial system possible
The book addresses the question from a historical perspective as well as from philosophical and moral question. What are the `Just deserts' of the public for having lent the knowledge, the educational and the development of the scientific and technological base for all of our modern miracles?
If society is entitled to its just deserts, in what manner should it receive it? Do we need an estate tax to recapture for public benefit what rightly is attributed to public contribution? Would a graduated income tax be appropriate with the portion going to the government, and money designated for educational purposes so that all citizens have good schools with highly trained teachers, all made safe by rigidly enforced safety standards?
This is a very provocative book with highly relevant social moral questions that need to be addressed
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.
Wealth disparity between the upper two percent and the remaining population has never been greater. A US nation of masters and serfs is at hand unless wealth concentration is drastically reduced. Outrageous amounts of monetary payments from executive compensation, capital gains, estate inheritance, and other sources to the already super rich have thrown any semblance of economic rationale out the window.
In this book Gar Alperovitz and Lew Daly clearly explain why monetary distribution is so lopsided and hubris rules. They explain the injustice of wealth distribution and how it can be eliminated to get the US back on an even keel so all citizens have a shot at a decent life. Surprises abound in this book and make for exciting reading. If you have always been bored by economics, that will not happen here. Every page contains a new revelation and is understandable.
This book is part of the spearhead for economic change in the US. It will not disappoint those who seek to renew this country and its promise.
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"Drawing on cutting-edge research as well as their knowledge of philosophy and economics, Alperovitz and Daly prove that up to 90%...Read more