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Unjust Deserts: How the Rich Are Taking Our Common Inheritance and Why We Should Take It Back Paperback – December 8, 2009

3.4 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


...convincingly demonstrates that knowledge is the primary source of our national wealth - Bill Moyers

The moral conclusion is unmistakable: society itself is the source of wealth, and all of us deserve an equal share. - Howard Zinn

Unjust Deserts is an elegant work of moral philosophy... - James K. Galbraith, Professor of Government, The University of Texas at Austin

...deeply informed and carefully argued study of the social and historical factors that enter into creative achievement... - Noam Chomsky

Agree or disagree, you will see the world differently after you have read this book. - William A. Galston, Senior Fellow, The Brookings Institution

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

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

...authors strike upon a vital topic when they highlight the need for the benefits from productivity gains to be shared... -- Mark Engler

Deliciously subversive. The authors lace their narrative with fascinating asides... and statistics that give their story plenty of dramatic oomph.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: The New Press; Reprint edition (December 8, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1595584862
  • ISBN-13: 978-1595584861
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5.1 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,859,319 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Jack Rosenblum on May 21, 2009
Format: 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.
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Format: Hardcover
You will be angry after reading this book. Alperovitz and Daly create a convincing argument that is difficult to deny. Exhaustively researched and yet so readable, the premise is that, "all of this knowledge-the overwhelming source of all modern wealth-comes to us today through no effort of our own." So if most of what we have today is attributable to advances we inherit in common, why is this gift of our collective history not benefiting all members of society. The top 1% of US Households receives more income than the bottom 120 million. Do they deserve it? Does a CEO of a major corporation deserve compensation 431 times that of an average worker? This book could not be timelier given the current state of the economy. If you weren't already angry at the unjust income distribution in this country and the fact that such a small percentage of Americans basically wallow in wealth while the rest of cant make ends meet, you will be very angry after reading this book. This is a readable, not just for economists, guide to getting back what is rightfully ours. This book doesn't just lay out the cold hard facts but also gives solutions. I am more convinced than ever, that not only are we getting shafted, but we can also now fight back. I highly recommend Unjust Deserts to anyone who is sick and tired of economic injustice and is ready for solutions.
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Format: Hardcover
I agree with the endorsement of William Galston that "you will see the world differently after you have read this book." Unjust Deserts turns the whole debate about growing inequality and "socialistic" taxation on its head by demonstrating that, in contrast to the highly individualistic way we think about and talk about economic differences, the creation of wealth in today's economy is highly socialized and only a small fraction of what we "earn" and "own," likely less than 15 percent, comes from conventional economic activities such as labor effort and employer investment. Most of it comes from productivity gains generated by accumulating knowledge, a collective asset. In a clear and logical way, they further explain what this means for how we think about distribution and inequality. Marshaling the Bible, Adam Smith, Thomas Paine, John Stuart Mill and even the young Winston Churchill to their intellectual cause, the authors argue that, in an advanced economy like ours, a much larger share of income and wealth, particularly at the top, is morally accessible to serve the needs of society--a startling turnaround of the rhetoric and reality of the last thirty years.
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Format: Hardcover
Arrival timing of this super-illuminating expose of the US economic problems,and their solution, could not have been better. Wealth concentration increases, especially since Ronald Reagan's tax cuts for the wealthy, have brutally damaged the US. College tuitions have soared, middle class income has stagnated, jobs no longer exist, principles in financial dealings have been eliminated, the poor no longer hope,and injustice is the rule for these days.

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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