Sunday, October 2, 2016

On "What Do We Do About Inequality?" by the WPC

The authors in this book approach the problem(s) of inequality in many different ways. One of the strengths of the work is the plurality of voices. This allows you to see the issue from multiple angles and experiences. If you don’t already, the voices here are important to follow across social media, especially twitter.

One weakness is that some of the writing is already available in other places. Tressie Cottom’s essay about the lived experience of being poor and making the wrong choices as perceived by outsiders is the most powerful essay in the book, and I’m pretty sure I’ve read it twice before this book because of people posting it on Twitter.

That said, there are other voices that I had not read in depth yet. There is an essay by Scott Santens, the first part of which is the best, most clear explanation of how a UBI would work - and this is something I’m very interested in as a potential response to inequality and I’m glad that in the last year or so that it has become part of the conversation.

Ultimately though, the book’s strength is also part of its weakness. Since there are a lot of voices, there is no one thing that we can take away as the answer to the titular question. Having this be an issue aired recently and on the tips of the tongues from economists like Deaton and Piketty and Milanovic is good, but it is at the grassroots that hopefully will move the needle. I just worry the robots will rise before we work out an equitable distribution to the gains of the productivity and that in ten years we will be asking the same questions from a scarier baseline.

I received an advance review copy, so I don’t want to talk too much about formatting, but a couple things stuck out. For one, there is no identification of the writers and their educational or professional background. This may have been a deliberate choice, but it diminished it a bit as a reader, since I wasn’t able to place the writer into my hermeneutic circle or whatever. Also, the notes are numbered sequentially and not broken up by the essay, making them a bit harder to get into if I wanted to chase a source.