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+Edythe McNamee and I are heading out tomorrow to start reporting the next Change the List story, on America's growing gap between rich and poor. Anyone have suggested reading/viewing/listening on the topic? What are the best works (books, documentaries, songs, articles, websites) on income inequality? I'm trying to compile a list of the best/quirkiest/most important/least-likely-to-put-you-to-sleep stuff. I get that it's not a beach-reading list, but here's a fun one to start ... 
It's the only remaining question you're not supposed to ask. But there's power in knowing. I asked everyone.
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quips, "It's not what you make, it's what you spend."
 
Jaime Johnson loves talking about social inequality...and his vantage point from on-high looking across the divide is a pretty fair attempt. His stuff is pretty contemporary...even caught my eye all the way here in South Africa!

 
Michael Harrington's "The Other America"   The chapter "If you're Black stay back" is memorable from my past read. Though each chapter rung true for me.

 There has been no watershed to balance the economy and society in the US. For example, the UK had the NHS post WWII which made a huge correction.

The social programs that we should respect and support are wrongly called  "entitlements" and our social democratic prez is ironically the rich man's prez, and in realizing so he is desperate to make a correction  now and elevate the minimum wage.
 
I highly recommend "Chronicles of Dissent" by Noam Chomsky.  
 
The Great Wave: Price Revolutions and the Rhythm of History by David Hackett Fischer. If your goal is to put rising inequality in context then this is the book.  Starts in the middle ages and tracks global periods of price stability where income inequality falls and periods of inflation where income inequality rises over 4 great waves -- also tracks crime, bastardy rates, transition periods, and other interesting stats.
 
"Stolen Harvest" by Vandana Shiva details the ills with our food networks and how this increases the rich-poor gap.
"False Dawn" by John Gray is a must-read to understand the fallacy of globalization and how it actively promotes wealth concentration in the hands of the few.
 
I'd recommend the documentary, "The Shock Doctrine", a video presentation of the book by Naomi Klein of the same name. It came out a couple of years ago and presents the real-world application of Milton Friedman's economic theories from the Nixon administration to the latest Bush, around the world. In short, the results have been strikingly consistent: the rich get richer, the poor get poorer, the unions are undercut and the middle class shrinks.
Ian H
 
As has been suggested, Atlas Shrugged was an excellent piece of fiction.  It should be highlighted however, that it's merely an element of the gap.  The book displays how corruption and leeching can ruin good capitalists.  We all know there are many bad capitalists.  The rich/poor gap is the result of people shrugging the government.  Representative democracy is not democracy.  We have a federal system that is too far away from each locality to deal with them, and no one wants to pick up being the government as a hobby.  If every citizen was part of the government and had the power to influence it's decisions or separate from this huge social organism we've created, we'd have democracy.  We might also have civil war (city continues to dump waste that contaminates rural community).

People don't always get along, and the game we play to make money has a stake-in-the ground system where if you got one in (patent or physical property), you're good; I think we're starting to get sick of that system because there is no where else for people who are realizing how it works to get a stake in.

We need more health care because farmers are forced to produce mass amounts of food and cannot justify a higher quality based on price because of the farm bill.  Atlas shrugged is a good example of that, however we also have people who don't work anymore... they just own stuff and hire people who manage their idea.  How many times have you come up with an idea just to find out that someone else makes it and if YOU start making it and selling it they will bring legal action against you?  We don't operate in a free society anymore, we are our own captors.  We have no say, the people who argue all day do, and we can do that too.
We need a restoration of democracy and freedom, and unfortunately so many bad things have happened that we're too afraid of "crime" to permit that to happen.  We simply depend on the many branches of government and law enforcement too much.
 
Surely the answers are political and cultural?  The Federal Reserve is nothing but a tool that politicians and the electorate through the political process give power.  How can the minimum wage, for example, in a country like Australia be close to $19.00 per hour but in the US about $7.20 per hour?  Australia too has a Federal Reserve.  The only difference therefore is political where the voters in Australia demand more from their politicians because culturally they want to see a more equitable system or a system that supports the middle class.
 
In order to be able to understand why the income gap keeps growing, you must understand the societal dynamics that allow it to happen.  I would recommend these three books for starters:

• Art of War by Sun-Tzu
• Chimpanzee Politics by Frans de Waal
• The Wisdom of Psychopaths by Kevin Dutton
Rob bie
 
Here are my contributions:
• Capital, by Karl Marx.
    Even if you're vehemently anti-Marxist, any serious discussion of inequality, has to address Marx's arguments.

If that's too heavy for you (Capital is a long, dense book), try the following:
• A People's History of the United States, by Howard Zinn
• Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered by E.F. Schumacher
• Occupy the Economy: Challenging Capitalism, by Richard Wolff (A short and very easy to read book. Very recent.)
 
Steve V
 
There is a series of Charlie Rose videos: "A prophetic interview with Sir James Goldsmith" that outlines some of the problems free trade "could cause". It has so many gems and is too accurate to dismiss:

"The poor in rich countries will subsidize the rich in poor ones."
"You cannot enrich a country by impoverishing its people."
"Purpose of Economy: to serve the fundamental needs of society."
"The divorce between corporations and society"

Sounds like socialism blather until you look at Goldsmith's vita: corporate raider, billionaire, financier, tycoon.

Great videos if you have a couple of hours to kill and want to be depressed.   When one of Clinton's financial advisers gets in the act it is amazing to hear the talking points - if only to reflect on which side was closer to the truth.  Nearly 20 years ago.  
 
The history of marginal income tax rates deserves a look in this discussion.  I frequently cite this when someone reacts like doomsday is coming if the top marginal tax bracket ever went over 39%.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Income_tax_in_the_United_States

And that's not even averaging today's capital gains handouts.  I wonder if we wouldn't be better off to have an independent non-profit, non-elected entity setting our tax rates for at least a decade.  Then we could stop doing long term unhealthy moves just to "goose" the economy for the always upcoming elections.
 
Income inequality is necessary and fair, to the extent that it is merited. Those that wish to moderate and control it are not socialists, and do not wish for everything to be distributed equally. If folks stopped speaking in such hyperbole about it, they might actually find out they have the same idea of the way things should be.
I think most rational people could agree that the income gap cannot diverge indefinitely and remain sustainable, let alone fair. It's been exploding for decades, and we're well beyond the threshold point. The country was in a healthier economic state when the gap was narrower. There are lots of lazy people out there- but to suggest that the gap is widening simply because there are too many lazy people taking handouts is flat wrong. It's unfortunate that the worst among us are over-represented in so many people's minds, totally skewing their reality. The only solution I can think of for this is to turn off the cable news channels.
If someone has a good idea or works hard- good for them and I hope they strike it rich. On the other hand, assuming everyone who is rich is that way because of their own merit is short sighted. The imperfect system can be legally exploited by a few to gain extreme unmerited reward. It's not realistic to expect that the system could be fixed or could be perfect. Therefore, one option remains- we have to temper the gains somehow. Progressive taxes are one of the best ways of doing this- but we should be closing loopholes and simplifying the tax code too. We have a system of thresholds... once you pass one, you have advantages that simply are not fair in terms of taxes or other policy. For example- not everyone can afford a lawyer, a team of lawyers, a lobbyist, or when you get to the Goldman Sachs level, full warehouses you can legally buy to hoard supply and drive the price up on a commodity you trade. LEGALLY. Not all of us can do that.
Those barriers are frequently uncrossable depending on where we start out in life... and no amount of hard work is enough to overcome it in most cases. So all the attempts to preserve the so-called American Dream by making sure we don't vilify the super rich are actually serving to suppress it.Income inequality is necessary and fair, to the extent that it is merited. Those that wish to moderate and control it are not socialists, and do not wish for everything to be distributed equally. If folks stopped speaking in such hyperbole about it, they might actually find out they have the same idea of the way things should be.
I think most rational people could agree that the income gap cannot diverge indefinitely and remain sustainable, let alone fair. It's been exploding for decades, and we're well beyond the threshold point. The country was in a healthier economic state when the gap was narrower. There are lots of lazy people out there- but to suggest that the gap is widening simply because there are too many lazy people taking handouts is flat wrong. It's unfortunate that the worst among us are over-represented in so many people's minds, totally skewing their reality. The only solution I can think of for this is to turn off the cable news channels.
If someone has a good idea or works hard- good for them and I hope they strike it rich. On the other hand, assuming everyone who is rich is that way because of their own merit is short sighted. The imperfect system can be legally exploited by a few to gain extreme unmerited reward. It's not realistic to expect that the system could be fixed or could be perfect. Therefore, one option remains- we have to temper the gains somehow. Progressive taxes are one of the best ways of doing this- but we should be closing loopholes and simplifying the tax code too. We have a system of thresholds... once you pass one, you have advantages that simply are not fair in terms of taxes or other policy. For example- not everyone can afford a lawyer, a team of lawyers, a lobbyist, or when you get to the Goldman Sachs level, full warehouses you can legally buy to hoard supply and drive the price up on a commodity you trade. LEGALLY. Not all of us can do that.
Those barriers are frequently uncrossable depending on where we start out in life... and no amount of hard work is enough to overcome it in most cases. So all the attempts to preserve the so-called American Dream by making sure we don't vilify the super rich are actually serving to suppress it.
 
I think money translates to power and as always, power corrupts.

The power of money is insidious and not necessarily deliberately so.

Big business corrupts government to tilt the playing field in its own favor.

Small business suffers as a result, especially very small business:  self-employed independent contractors.

http://www.independent-self-employment.biz/
 
I think discussion about income inequality can be traced to two philosophical foundations in rough terms. John Locke's second treatise discussing what is traditional (not modern) liberal theory emphasizing individual liberty is a good foundation for one side of the equation. Karl Marx's communist manifesto provides a good foundation for laying out the case for the causes and problems of income inequality regardless of the failure of the communist system to provide an adequate workable solution.
At the end of the day, there is a tension between the needs and wants of the community vs the rights and responsibilities of individuals who have prospered above the norm. You will need to address this tension as it underlies every discussion on laws and policies.
 
The Bottom Billion by Collier discusses inequality on a global level and provides an interesting model of viewing income disparity by suggesting specific "traps" that tend to force populations to maintain their low position. Unfortunately, the best solution is to never encounter the traps at all, which is similar to being born with a silver spoon in one's mouth; great for those who have it, and almost impossible for those who do not. 
 
I strongly recommend "The End of Work" by Jeremy Rifkin.  (1996, Tarcher/Putnam, NY).  Rifkin is always stimulating if not always completely convincing.  This book is a history and projection of the potential of "technological unemployment."  I picked it up in a used bookstore because it seems to me we at the dawn of a new robotics/AI revolution that is going to be a terrible challenge.  The book is full of fascinating historical information - who knew that the US almost adopted a 30 hr. work week and that FDR was the person who blocked it.  It also contains this chilling quote from Norbert Weiner, the "father of cybernetics":  "Let us remember that the automatic machine is the precise economic equivalent of slave labor.  Any labor which competes with slave labor must accept the economic consequences of slave labor."  Those, of course, are low wages or no work.  It seems to me this is a large part of the inequality problem. 

My guess is that due to technological progress we are using about half the labor per capita in our (US) economy than we did 100 years ago.  That we'd gone from working on average over our life times from 150,000 hrs (paid and household) to 75,000.  This has been accomplished by
(1) holding folks back from entering the work force.  Children used to go work when still of elementary school age - my wife's grandfather started working full time when he was 11.   Now, for the most part, folks don't enter the work forces until they're 18 or, for many, years later.
(2) by ending the work life sooner.  Before the advent of Social Security many folks had little conception of "retirement" short of complete physical incapacity.    Now people retire (often involuntarily) in their 50s.
(3) other subtractions including military service, incarceration, disability provisions and social welfare programs.
But the gains and losses have been distributed unequally.  Some still work 150,000 hours many work much less than that and for lower wages.

We still, however, have a system that allocates income on the basis of labor.  Some labor cannot be easily automated and is well paid others are, or soon will be, competing with cybernetic "slaves" and will suffer.

As technological change accelerates we will have to find a different way to share the wealth or social chaos will result.
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