We’re More Unequal Than You Think
by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett
Bloomsbury, 331 pp., $28.00; $18.00 (paper)
by Robert H. Frank
Princeton University Press, 240 pp., $26.95
by Thomas Byrne Edsall
Doubleday, 272 pp., $24.95
by James Gilligan
Polity, 229 pp., $19.95
Imagine a giant vacuum cleaner looming over America’s economy, drawing dollars from its bottom to its upper tiers. Using US Census reports, I estimate that since 1985, the lower 60 percent of households have lost $4 trillion, most of which has ascended to the top 5 percent, including a growing tier now taking in $1 million or more each year.1Some of our founders foresaw this happening. “Society naturally divides itself,” Alexander Hamilton wrote in The Federalist, “into the very few and the many.” His coauthor, James Madison, identified the cause. “Unequal faculties of acquiring property,” he said, inhere in every human grouping. If affluence results from inner aptitudes, it might seem futile to try reining in the rich.
All four of the books under review reject Hamilton and Madison’s premises. All are informative, original, and offer unusual insights. None accepts that social divisions are inevitable or natural, and all make coherent arguments in favor of less inequality, supported by persuasive statistics.