Economic Inequality: A Book List

I was discussing economic inequality with a conservative… which, as always, is a masochistic activity.

I’m amazed how easily a conservatives dismiss such things. It isn’t just about the data, about whether correlation is causation. It’s hard enough to even get conservatives to look at the data, and so most debates never even get beyond blind dismissal of what conservatives don’t know and don’t want to know.

I truly do think the data is secondary, although the mountains of correlations do make a damning case. The reason I say the data is secondary is because the data isn’t necessary. The idea that vast economic inequality is bad should be commonsense. Just a brief perusal of countries with similar economic inequalities should make any American a bit on the uncomfortable side.

I know conservatives mistrust science and academia, even though that mistrust is rather selective in application. But when did common sense become the enemy of conservatives?

Maybe that is why the data is so important, after all. The data makes clear what is already obvious enough. Sometimes stating and restating the obvious is the best one can offer in defense of truth and morality.

In that light, I offer a list of books I’ve been perusing recently and also some that I was considering as possible reads. I hope many more people will begin reading books like these and that it will force the discussion into the mainstream, whether or not conservatives like it.

The Politics of Inequality: A Political History of the Idea of Economic Inequality in America
By Michael J. Thompson

Why Some Politicians Are More Dangerous Than Others
By James Gilligan

It’s the Middle Class, Stupid!
By James Carville and Stan Greenberg

Falling Behind: How Rising Inequality Harms the Middle Class
By Robert Frank

Class Matters
By The New York Times

Status Syndrome: How Social Standing Affects Our Health and Longevity
By Michael Marmot

Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America
By Barbara Ehrenreich

Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream
By Barbara Ehrenreich

The Measure of America: American Human Development Report, 2008-2009
By Sarah Burd-Sharps, Kristen Lewis, Eduardo Borges Martins, Amartya Sen, and William H. Draper III

The Measure of America, 2010-2011
By Burd-Sharps Lewis and Sarah Kristen

Inequality Matters: The Growing Economic Divide In America And Its Poisonous Consequences
By James Lardner (Author, Editor), David Smith (Editor), Bill Moyers (Foreword), and Jim Lardner (Author)

The Great Divergence: America’s Growing Inequality and What We Can Do about It
By Timothy Noah

The Price of Inequality: How Today’s Divided Society Endangers Our Future
By Joseph E. Stiglitz

Mismeasuring Our Lives: Why GDP Doesn’t Add Up
By Joseph E. Stiglitz, Amartya Sen, and Jean-Paul Fitoussi

So Rich, So Poor: Why It’s So Hard to End Poverty in America
By Peter Edelman

The Price of Inequality: Facts, Trends, and International Perspectives
By Kemal Dervis, Uri Dadush, Sarah P. P. Milsom, and Bennett Stancil

Winner-Take-All Politics
By Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson

Polarized America: The Dance of Ideology and Unequal Riches
By Nolan McCarty, Keith T. Poole, and Howard  Rosenthal

Disconnect: The Breakdown of Representation in American Politics
By Morris P. Fiorina and Samuel J. Abrams

99 to 1: How Wealth Inequality Is Wrecking the World and What We Can Do about It
By Chuck Collins

Economic Apartheid In America: A Primer On Economic Inequality & Insecurity
By Chuck Collins and Felice Yeskel

The Unheavenly Chorus: Unequal Political Voice and the Broken Promise of American Democracy
By Key Lehman Schlozman, Sidney Verba, and Henry E. Brady

The Private Roots of Public Action: Gender, Equality, and Political Participation
By Nancy Burns, Key Lehman Schlozman, and Sidney Verba

Inequality and American Democracy: What We Know and What We Need to Learn
By Lawrence R. Jacobs

Faces of Inequality: Social Diversity in American Politics
By Rodney E. Hero

Latinos and the U.S. Political System: Two-Tiered Pluralism
By Rodney E. Hero

Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life
By Annette Lareau

The Color of Wealth: The Story Behind the U.S. Racial Wealth Divide
By Barbara J. Robles, Betsy Leondar-Wright, Rose M. Brewer, Rebecca Adamson, and Meizhu Lui

With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful
By Glenn Greenwald

The New Jim Crow
By Michelle Alexander

Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II
By Douglas A. Blackman

Wealth and Democracy: How Great Fortunes and Government Created America’s Aristocracy
By Kevin Phillips

Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age
By Larry M. Bartels

Affluence and Influence: Economic Inequality and Political Power in America
By Martin Gilens

Inequality and Instability: A Study of the World Economy Just Before the Great Crisis
By James K. Galbraith

Inequality, Power, and Development: Issues in Political Sociology
By Jerry Kloby

Inequality Reexamined
By Amartya Kumar Sen

Public Health, Ethics, and Equity
By Sudhir Anand, Fabienne Peter, and Amartya Sen

Infections and Inequalities: The Modern Plagues
ByPaul Farmer

Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights, and the New War on the Poor
By Paul Farmer

The Health of Nations: Why Inequality Is Harmful to Your Health
By Ichiro Kawachi and Bruce P. Kennedy

The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better
By Richard G. Wilkinson and Kate Pickett

The Impact of Inequality: How to Make Sick Societies Healthier
By Richard G. Wilkinson

Worlds Apart: Measuring International and Global Inequality
By Branko Milanovic

The Haves and the Have-Nots: A Brief and Idiosyncratic History of Global Inequality
By Branko Milanovic

The New Economics of Inequality and Redistribution (Federico Caffè Lectures)
By Samuel Bowles
Unequal Chances: Family Background and Economic Success
By Samuel Bowles
Poverty Traps
By Samuel Bowles

The Oxford Handbook of Economic Inequality (Oxford Handbooks)
By Wiemer Salverda


6 thoughts on “Economic Inequality: A Book List

    • You’re welcome.

      By the way, I forgot about a couple other books that are relevant. So, I’ll be adding some titles to this list later on. I’m not near a computer at the moment, at least not one that works. But I’ll probably be on a computer sometime later today and I’ll expand the list at that time.

      As a note of interest, my mention of “common sense” was mostly an intentional reference to Thomas Paine’s Agrarian Justice. My point was that this understanding has been seen by many great thinkers as an intuitively obvious truth. The problems of economic inequality as related to democracy go back to the early Greek philosophers. Going back to the beginning of Western civilization, this was hardly a new viewpoint invented by 20h century progressives.

      Several of the books listed above mention Paine and other similar thinkers in American and Western history. I purposely put at the top of the list a book about American history, just to clarify that concerns about economic inequality weren’t a foreign import.

  1. “Sometimes stating and restating the obvious is the best one can offer in defense of truth and morality.”

    There is a great deal to this statement. One, because it’s all one can do much of the time, and, since these are often moral concerns, we should feel obligated to do the best we can to further a moral impetus. The other reason is more important: kind, creative, fervent, assumptive repetition has an impact with them, even when it doesn’t seem to. Conservative communication is often done in a much more competitive mindset than we on the left are used to. The system is set up so that liberals do the progressive thinking for them- they are about the business of keeping the status quo going, which they see as no mean feat. They only begin to listen more than the bare minimum as persistence and volume begin to make a dent. There is a lot of evidence that the global warming denial is beginning to thaw at a much faster rate now, simply because of this phenomenon. Twenty years of pressure is beginning to have an effect.

    Liberal attitudes about conservative thick-headedness reminds me of the despair and impatience of many parents with rebellious teenagers. There’s the same lack of recognition that actions and words can have an enormous influence, just not in the time frame we desire. Things get recorded and played back later; there’s a subconscious addition and layering that occurs. Decision paths we see as binary- whether we concern ourselves with global warning or not, for instance- reveal themselves to be time-dependent; partial, shaded; helped along eventually with their own half-truths and unanticipated arguments. One turns around and notices that there’s a lessening of conservative pressure against an issue; then a implicit admission; then a mildly explicit admission; then a co-opting of the cause as their own.

    For many conservatives, their ideology is a way to advocate to slow down change in general. Generally, the only way they adjust from a no-change approach is liberal advocacy over time- so that’s our job. We’re often anxious to castigate this slowness as essentially a moral fault, especially the bias-driven irrationality of the denial phases. Empirically, denial is an essential component of conservatism, and obviously, rationality has nothing to do with it. It’s naive to assume implicitly that our goal and moral task should be to appeal to the rational mind of an opponent, that something is very wrong when we don’t win the field based on arguments rooted in rationality. Our actual tasks relate almost exclusively to the interaction of subconscious minds- ours and theirs- and we should be more comfortable with the time dependency, nonlinearity, and mystery of the task. What we should remember better, and take comfort from, is that the impetus to avoid undue risk through inappropriate change, which is the theoretical (as opposed to the empirical) conservative approach, is a worthy goal. They (empirically) then approach that goal by wielding both an strongly inherited and culturally instigated goal-orientation, coupled with strong inherited biases which were primarily designed to limit the uncertainty that is the worst enemy of the subconscious mind. Many conservatives feel very threatened when liberals or anyone else decide to add constricting or conflicting dimensions to the straightforward goals they feel very strongly are of great value, like economic optimization. If we could be patient and trusting enough to recognize the nobleness, however misplaced, of the loyalty, consistency, and urge to do the right thing that drives many conservatives, we’d be more comfortable with repeating and infilling as well as we can. We’d also be less bitter, less prone to assume the moral high ground, and more effective advocates of our causes.

    • I agree with all that you wrote. I’ve increaingly come to see the validity in this viewpoint. I still get frustrated, but i’m learning to be more patient and accepting as time goes by.

      That said, I do think there is some value to occasionally calling a spade a spade. Subtlety and kumbaya kindness isn’t always the best response. A good old fashioned shaming can have a powerful impact on the conservative psyche. Liberals shouldn’t be afraid to bring the fight to conservatives. Generally speaking, though, I have little desire to fight.

      One reason I like to blog is that I can speak my mind. I don’t need to worry about influencing anyone in a direct fashion. I just want to add my voice to the chorus. What may or may not come of it is out of my hands. Either conservatives eventually change their minds or they don’t, but my sense is that collective opinion of conservatives is already shifting on many major issues even if it can be hard to tell with the distraction of the right-wing media noise machine.

      I’m constantly looking at data such as polls and I’m constantly checking out opinions around the web. I’ve been observing a shift in public opinion over this past decade. Strauss and Howe describe it in their theory as the Fourth Turning. I think conservatives are digging in their heels right now because they feel the tide is turning against them.

      Just consider all the changes over this past century. Evolution won out ove creationism. Progressive reform such as social security is now supported even by a majority of conservatives. Most Americans support the legalizatio or decriminalization of drugs. An increasing number on the right have come toaccept global warming is contributed to by humans. Even the abortion issue has lost support for the far right position. As for economic inequality, polls show that the division on this issue isn’t just between the left and the right but has grown within the ranks of the conservative movement itself.

      I can see how it would feel frustrating to be a strong conervative during this period of change. Even the moderate conservatives are beginning to turn against the more radical conservatives. The shrinking number of conervative purists must see themselves as becoming isolated. Defensiveness is a natural response from them.

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