Monday, November 16, 2015

"Inequality: What Can Be Done": Anthony B. Atkinson's Starts the Conversation

Inequality is bad.

Wait, not the book, but the fact that some have much more than others and that it is truly impossible to justify that in terms of hard work - whatever that means.

Inequality has been the elephant in the room that was ignored for so long until Piketty blew up for some reason last year. It's weird how that happens in the culture. I bought Piketty’s book Capital on pre-order and only got about 100 pages in,. By the time I actually got the book, I had read so many blogs going back and forth over it that I had felt like I had already read it.

Anthony B. Atkinson’s book, “Inequality: What can be done?” didn’t get the same attention when it came out in 2015, and I’m not sure why not. Maybe the bloggers on both sides had decided that it was time to look at something else - secular stagnation, when will the Fed achieve liftoff from the zero lower bound, is the Phillips curve still a thing.  Or maybe because Atkinson’s book felt a little less universal than Piketty with his laws so that people could argue if r was less than, greater than, or equal to g. Either way, the fact that people didn’t let this book blow up in the same way is shameful, because it is more straightforward and systematic and economical with the prose. If anything, it fails because it is less grandiose than Piketty, looking at changes that can be made at the national level instead of some global wealth tax. Instead he has a constellation of proposals and an examination of their feasibility and potential cost. If anything for popular American readers, it might be seen as a bit dry and a bit too focused on somewhere that is not America, but the proposals are transferrable. Importantly though, Atkinson doesn’t leave his proposals as the definitive answer, accepting that the economy exists in flux with many variables - making his work not just some answers but a jumping off point for further discussion, We just have to be brave enough to join that discussion.