For the past three decades, America has steadily become a nation of haves and have-nots. Our incomes are increasingly drastically unequal: the top 1% of Americans collect almost 20% of the nation’s income—more than double their share in 1973. We have less equality of income than Venezuela, Kenya, or Yemen.
What economics Nobelist Paul Krugman terms “the Great Divergence” has until now been treated as little more than a talking point, a club to be wielded in ideological battles. But it may be the most important change in this country during our lifetimes—a sharp, fundamental shift in the character of American society, and not at all for the better.
The income gap has been blamed on everything from computers to immigration, but its causes and consequences call for a patient, non-partisan exploration. In The Great Divergence, Timothy Noah delivers this urgently needed inquiry, ignoring political rhetoric and drawing on the best work of contemporary researchers to peer beyond conventional wisdom. Noah explains not only how the Great Divergence has come about, but why it threatens American democracy—and most important, how we can begin to reverse it.
The Great Divergence is poised to be one of the most talked-about books of 2012, a jump-start to the national conversation about what kind of society we aspire to be in the 21st century: a land of equality, or a city on a hill—with a slum at the bottom.
About Timothy Noah
Timothy Noah was recently named “TRB,” the lead columnist at The New Republic. He wrote for Slate for a dozen years, and previously served at the Wall Street Journal, the New Republic, and the Washington Monthly. He edited two collections of the writings of his late wife, Marjorie Williams, including the New York Times bestseller The Woman at the Washington Zoo. Noah received the 2011 Hillman Prize, the highest award for public service magazine journalism, for the series in Slate that forms the basis of The Great Divergence.
This inequality, writes the author, is worse than it has been in any other period of American history, and it is completely out of line with America’s trading partners and allies. Noah shows that this trend is not directly related to the usual political suspects—black-white disparity, the treatment of women, etc.—and their correlatives in the economy and employment, but is in a class by itself, a result of contextual developments broader than particular laws or taxes enacted by Congress. The author examines the research of Princeton and Vanderbilt public policy professor Larry Bartels, whose message in his 2008 book Unequal Democracy “boiled down to a bluntly partisan message. You don’t like income inequality? Then don’t vote Republican.” Noah discusses the rise and fall of the trade-union movement and demonstrates that turning points in that movement were also turning points in the growth of income inequality. While after the end of World War II it was normal for the president to sit down with labor and business officials to discuss the economy, it no longer is. The author indicates that when anti-labor legislation (e.g., the Taft-Hartley Act) was combined with corporate lobbying, the institutions underpinning ideas of what was acceptable where income was concerned were undermined. Noah also calls out financial deregulation as a major offender, and he lists measures that he believes can help the situation, such as soaking the rich (think higher taxes and fees for wealthy individuals), fattening government payrolls and attracting more skilled immigrants. – Kirkus Reviews
What’s Behind America’s ‘Great Divergence’
NPR Book Review – April 26, 2012 (Excerpt)
Thirty years ago, CEOs of America’s largest businesses earned an estimated 42 times as much as their average employee. These days, that number has jumped to more than 200 times as much, by many counts. Since the economic crisis of 2008, there has been much more focus on income inequality, not just from economists and social scientists, but also from politicians and from protesters who occupied Wall Street.
While there’s no argument about what happened, there’s plenty of debate about why and what — if anything — should be done to correct it. In a new book, The Great Divergence: America’s Growing Inequality Crisis and What We Can Do About It, journalist Timothy Noah traces the causes of the growth in inequality and prescribes some solutions that may or may not prove politically palatable.
Income inequality is corrosive, Noah tells NPR’s Neal Conan. “The affluent and the middle class really constitute two separate cultures now that are deeply alienated from one another,” says Noah. “Even conservatives have started to recognize this.” [Read the full article...]
Minding the Gap - ‘The Great Divergence,’ by Timothy Noah
The New York Times Book Review – May 25, 2012 (Excerpt)
Writing in the middle of the 19th century, Karl Marx predicted that the gulf between the newly rich and the miserable urban poor, made much worse by the Industrial Revolution, would continue to widen indefinitely. This ever greater disparity, he thought, would ultimately undermine capitalism. Marx turned out to be wrong. Income inequality in Britain (and, from what we can tell, elsewhere in Europe too) began to narrow after the 1860s, and inequality in wealth peaked by the time of World War I. In America, inequality in both incomes and wealth began to lessen after the 1920s. The rich continued to live far better than the poor, but over the next 50 years the gap between them narrowed substantially.
Writing in the middle of the 20th century, the American economist (and future Nobel laureate) Simon Kuznets extrapolated into the indefinite future this newer trend toward more equal incomes and living standards — at least for the advanced economies. He theorized that while the initial stages of industrialization caused inequality to increase, and would do so whenever new economies industrialized, further economic development would foster ever greater equality. Alas, Kuznets turned out to be wrong too. The gap between rich and poor has been growing for the past 30 years in most of the world’s advanced economies, and especially in the United States.
Modern economists have learned from Marx’s and Kuznets’s mistakes. Like Kuznets, they see widening or narrowing inequality as the cumulative outcome of several different influences, some pushing the rich and the poor apart and some drawing them closer together. But instead of assuming that the tug of war between those opposing forces is automatically decided by an economy’s stage of development, today’s thinking seeks to understand what makes each influence stronger or weaker. And part of the object is to search out ways for public policy to affect the balance, instead of viewing the overall outcome as predetermined. [Read the full article...]
THE BLEEDING HILLS A Novel by Wilfried F. Voss
I have fought a good fight,
I have finished my course,
I have kept the faith. - 2 Timothy iv. 7
The Irish War is officially a part of history, but not for Finnean Whelan, an IRA veteran of almost 40 years. British Intelligence has produced evidence that he is the mastermind behind a conspiracy to assassinate the First Minister of Northern Ireland. For Whelan this is not only a mission of revenge, but marks the beginning of a journey into the past and the return to the one true love: Ireland. [More...]
We are the only country that makes guns, including military-style assault weapons, available to anyone who wants to buy them. This is not freedom. It is a tyranny of death and destruction — a tyranny of which the National Rifle Association is proud. The Washington Post
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