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The Cost of Not Reading "The Price of Inequality"
September 24, 2012 - 9:00pm

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

Published in June of 2012

Most of the people on our campus will not read Stiglitz's new book The Price of Inequality.  

An understanding of the causes and consequences of economic inequality may be one of the most important issues for any educated person to grapple with, yet the number of our students who read The Price of Inequality is most likely very small.

What makes the Stiglitz book so important?  

Very few of us (although maybe some brave souls) will argue that the growing levels of economic inequality in the U.S. represent a positive trend. It is well known that real wages for middle income earners have stagnated over the past couple of decades, with households making up for the difference by increasing the number of hours worked by each family member. We also know that the costs of health care and education have gone up much faster than the rate of wage growth.

Where Stiglitz is brilliant is in not only explicating these trends, but in demolishing the argument that growing levels of stratification are an inalterable result of our knowledge economy. 

How many times have we heard that the wages of "creative workers" will rise, as routine knowledge and manual work gets sourced to machines or low-wage countries? 

Stiglitz argues that this is only part of the story, and the the growth of inequality is driven as much if not more by policy choices that favor the very wealthy.

Do I have any complaints about The Price of Inequality? I would probably say Stiglitz oversells his argument that political conservatives are untroubled by growing levels of inequality. The economic conservatives that I know are as equally disturbed as I am about wage stagnation and high unemployment. Where they differ is in how they would address these issues (via market mechanisms and a reduction of regulations), not in the ultimate goal of reducing inequality.

Why won't more people in our community read The Price of Inequality? Time

The audiobook will take you about 13 hours to finish. A good rule of thumb is that we read with our eyes about twice as fast as we read with our ears. So the Stiglitz book is a good six and half hours of concentrated reading, but probably more time given the energy it takes to read with concentration.

In my fantasy world we shut off the Internet on campus for two days, we cancel all meetings and classes and sporting events, and everyone reads and discusses The Price of Inequality.

Could happen.

What are you reading?


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