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The Winner-Take-All Society: Why the Few at the Top Get So Much More Than the Rest of Us Paperback – September 1, 1996
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top Customer Reviews
-Technology. National distribution channels such as network television make it easier for an individual to penetrate the market. For example, at one time villages and towns had their own musicians. Now a singer can make a CD and sell it nationally.
-Falling transportation and tariff costs. Goods have gotten lighter. It is easier to send computer discs all over the world than books. CD's are lighter than phonograph records
-- Mental shelf space constraints. We have a limit to the number of items we can keep in our head..."the amount of information we can actually use is thus a declining fraction of the total information available."
-Weakening of regulations and civil society. At one time, informal and formal rules limited the winner take all markets. Now, like free agents in baseball, the top performers have the leverage to demand high prices.
-Self-reinforcing processes. This is another way of saying "success begets success." For example, a sales person does well and gets bigger customers. A person does well and the word of mouth referral causes them to saturate the market. This virtuous cycle increases the income and power of top performers.
The author argues that winner take all markets are not good for society. People are unrealistically optimistic about their own chances of winning "a prize." Thus they are siphoned off from other productive endeavors.
This book was helpful to me in understanding today's economy and job market. If anything, the winners are doing better than ever today, long after the book was published. Just take a look at the latest article on CEO salaries.
The markets for which the authors have the strongest evidence of "winner take all" characteristics are presented earliest. As the book goes on, however, it falls into the same pattern of thousands of books before it: the authors have made one important and interesting observation, and they proceed to claim that virtually everything in the world that they disapprove of can be accounted for by this one observation. They assume, without plausible evidence, that the declines in education and popular culture are the direct consequence of winner-take-all markets. In a couple of cases they even admit that the evidence for winner-take-all characteristics in a particular industry or occupation is scanty or even nonexistent. But that doesn't prevent them from offering further arguments and policy recommendations based on the assumption that every one of these markets is dominated by winner-take-all distortions.
By the end of this book, where the authors make policy recommendations, they come close to leaving reality behind. They make these recommendations based on the assumptions that the **entire economy** is dominated by winner-take-all characteristics - a proposition for which they offer no evidence whatever. It is hard to escape the impression that their goal in writing this book was to justify a more socialistic economic policy on the part of the government, rather than to evenhandedly examine and explain an important issue.
In short: read the first of half of this book, because it makes a lot of worthwhile points and observations. Read most of the rest if you're retired or have a lot of free time. Skip the last chapter, with their policy recommendations.
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Some of the markets where "winner took all" are very different...