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The Upside of Inequality: How Good Intentions Undermine the Middle Class Hardcover – September 13, 2016
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—Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute
“This provocative new book by Ed Conard is a must-read for serious students of economic policy. Conard’s core thesis—that advancement in living standards is constrained by risk capital and properly trained talent—suggests an inequality borne of returns from innovation. His solutions are sensible and all the more compelling in the context of this paean to risk-taking.”
—Glenn Hubbard, dean of Columbia Business School and former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers
“Conard makes a fresh argument for the productive value of inequality, which is that scarce entrepreneurial effort and risk-tolerant capital are the resources that are both most central to economic growth and most sensitive to the potential distortions imposed by taxation and regulation. Whether or not one accepts this argument, it’s an argument well worth having.”
—David Autor, professor of economics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
“I profoundly disagree with much of what is in Conard’s book but respect the clarity with which he makes his case. Agree or disagree, this book can sharpen your thinking on critical economic issues, making it a very valuable contribution.”
—Larry Summers, former Secretary of the Treasury and Director of the National Economic Council, President Emeritus, Harvard University
“Ed Conard puts forward a comprehensive explanation of the modern economy. Critics may dismiss it as a defense of the 1 percent, but it’s much, much more than that. I rarely see economic analysis as insightful as this.”
—Julian Robertson, founder of Tiger Management
“Page after page, Ed Conard challenges conventional wisdom about the causes of growing inequality, the constraints to growth, and the feasibility of commonly proposed solutions to advance a thought-provoking blueprint for growing middle- and working-class incomes in a world with an abundance of workers. Whether you agree or not, this is serious thinking for serious thinkers.”
—Mitt Romney, former Governor of Massachusetts
About the Author
Ed Conard is the author of two top ten New York Times bestselling books: The Upside of Inequality: How Good Intentions Undermine the Middle Class and Unintended Consequences: Why Everything You’ve Been Told About the Economy Is Wrong. He is a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. Previously, he was a founding partner at Bain Capital, where he worked closely with former presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
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The book deserves a solid 3.5 out of 5 stars. To be upfront, the reason it lost 1.5 stars is due to it being super technical with both its terminology, but also the way the book introduces topics. I would be absolutely shocked if a layperson could read this book once through and fully understand everything. Maybe this is me expecting an author to “spoon-feed” me my knowledge, but to be honest, I don’t think that is unrealistic. The author wants me to read a book and enjoy it, then they need to better explain topics. Finally, the author was so repetitive with certain phrasing, especially “the economy’s capacity and willingness to take risk” that I wanted to throw this book at a wall sometimes. Like “I GET IT. STOP SAYING IT”. You can hammer information through to someone without constantly repeating the fact/opinion.
Hopefully I can break this book down into something more manageable to understand. The author wants people to understand why the USA economy is what is is today (how we got here), especially in terms of wealth/income inequality. In today’s political climate, inequality is a hot topic, hence why I wanted to read this book to begin with. The book does a fairly good job of explaining that it isn’t the top 1% or even the top 0.1% whose income is growing faster than everyone else’s, but rather the top 0.01%. So, an extremely small number of individuals incomes are growing at a faster rate than the rest of the populations (between 1947 and 2013). This bit of information really helped put things into perspective for me as we constantly here the “top 5%” or “top 1%” being thrown out into the political conversation. As a side note, I would like to mention that the author includes a very extensive references section when he states his facts so the reader can go and look them up on his/her own if they want to.
Once we understood about the income inequality, the author tries to explain how the current politicians would like to solve this (e.g., redistribution, higher taxes). The author really tries to explain all the “myths” about income inequality and the solutions to it proposed by certain individuals. For example, the author mentions why wage growths are so slow (mainly due to the fact we have more jobs opening up, so wages remain low; it is hard to increase the number of jobs as well as the wages of workers). There are a few chapters dedicated to these exact myths (e.g., investment opportunities are in short supply). A lot of detail is put into these, but in my opinion, unless you are well versed in national economics, you will likely have to read these chapters over a few times to fully understand the information.The author then spends a brief chapter on education (and how it can and cannot help solve this income inequality) and ends with a chapter on real solutions (ones he thinks will work at least). For example, instead of our trade partners buying government debt/bonds, they need to buy American products in order to support our economy.
I can’t go into large detail into all the main conclusions/points of this book, but the one he hit home, mainly due to his repetitiveness, is the fact that our economy is sort of stagnating (thus causing wages to not go up and inequality to grow) due to the “economies capacity and willingness to take risk”. Everyone is too scared of another financial crises (like what happened in 2008) and so no one wants to take a big leap of faith into a new innovative business. This causes a lot of the issues we have today and in order to get out of this, we need to take more risk and bear more equity (which we can better obtain from our trade partners).
Innovators and creators need to be rewarded so the rest of us can benefit. The authors analysis says consumers benefit way more than the creators.