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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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A examination of the ways in which "winner take all" markets allow top earners to corner an increasing proportion of total income growth.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
"A major contribution to the debate about causes and consequences of inequality in America"
The New York Times Book Review.
"Should be at the forefront of everyone's attention"
Lester C. Thurow, Los Angeles Times
"Frank and Cook break new ground by linking the win-at-all costs mentality to economic and cultural problems."
"A fun, informative, and provocative read"
The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
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He makes the case that this is not socially beneficial for a number of reasons. One is that it leads to an over allocation of human resources to these fields. This happens as most persons are far too optimistic regarding their probability of being successful in such fields whereas, in reality, few would be. He provides considerable empirical evidence for the cast that such over optimism does exist. This leads to too many persons pursuing careers in such fields, a negative both for society and many of these same individuals as the overwhelming majority can never succeed in reaching the upper most pinnacles (or for that matter even being able to make a decent living in these fields).
In addition, these type of markets lead to great inequalities in wealth, too much conspicuous consumption and far too few resources allocated to public goods (i.e., schools, roads, etc.). With respect to the last item his argument is weak in that he does not make as strong a case for how increasingly inequality and conspicuous consumption lead to decreased spending on public goods.
The above arguments, in general, are novel and, more or less, logical. Where the book is weak, however, is in respect to the "solutions" proposed to remedy this problem. The author recommends implementing a more progressive income tax structure as a means of reducing the incentive to enter such markets. The main problem with this is that it would have to be raised significantly, from its current about one-third of top income earners income to, say, two-thirds (the author cites no specific numbers). This does not seem feasible, however, given the current political climate. In addition, raising the top rates does little to reduce the optimism most aspirants to these professions have in being able to make it to the pinnacles of these fields. Hence it does not tackle the true source of the misallocation problem.
Update in 2017: having had the benefit of more experience, I've realized this author was more prescient than I first realized. I now understand why economists and lawyers are opposed to each other. Lawyers--whether good or bad--often create exorbitant costs that do nothing to resolve underlying problems, whereas good economists usually favor systems that promote efficiency.
Bonus: "Lawyers are the professionals most involved in the day-to-day business of property. They sit in key government offices where they can suppress major decisions. No group--aside from terrorists--is better positioned to sabotage capitalist expansion. And unlike terrorists, the lawyers know how to do it legally… The difficulty is that few lawyers understand the economic consequences of their work, and their knee-jerk to extralegal behavior and to large-scale change is generally hostile. All the reformers I have met working to make property more accessible to the poor operate with the presumption that the legal profession is their natural enemy." -- Hernando de Soto, The Mystery of Capital, pp. 198-199.
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Some of the markets where "winner took all" are very different...Read more