Sunday, December 9, 2012
The Great Divergence: America's Growing Inequality Crisis and What We Can Do about It by Timothy Noah
"The Great Divergence" aims to explain where our economy and society are today compared to various points throughout the last century. In many ways this book is an excellent introduction into a variety of aspects of US history that explain why today's inequality exists on the scale that it does. As should be understood, inequality is a fact of life, what the author proposes is not the creation of an egalitarian society - perish the thought of paying everyone their equal share - but a reversal of a trench that seems to have no end in sight - that of a society where the rich are in fact getting richer, the poor are still poor, and the middle class is slowly losing its identity and ability to survive as a 'middle class'. Noah does an excellent job in showing that the income inequality cannot be blamed on any one event, person, or law, but that from the evidence available (at times a collection of dense statistics and studies) there are multiple reasons for why a serious gap has developed between the top 10% and the other 90%. What surprised me was that the bottom of the top 10% within the US have a combined income (husband and wife) of just $106,000, this really puts into perspective what the bottom 90% have to deal with on a day to day basis when we look at the continuing rise in costs for health care, education, housing, and automobiles. Although I found much of the information presented here interesting there are still gaps in the author's presentation of not only the history of 'The Great Divergence' but also what he views as some of the solutions to this problem. For instance, in regards to solving the problem of rising prices for colleges and universities, not much is offered aside from there are ways to alleviate costs that the government can enforce that can offer students greater opportunities to attend. What gets left out is the greater problem, the anti-elitist culture that has permeated America and the anti-education attitude that is regularly encountered throughout not only the public school system but also university level classrooms. The level of education a high school diploma once signified has now been replaced by an undergraduate degree. Universities are no longer bastions of knowledge but budding corporations that seek to enroll as many students as possible and throw worthless pieces of paper at them so the next batch can be fleeced anew. University professors are the new high school instructors and an environment that was once supposed to open young adults' minds about the world around them is reduced to teaching basic grammar to 18-year-olds that can hardly spell or put together coherent sentences. This is in large measure the future work-force of the United States. Thus, in the end this is a book that offers an interesting, detailed introduction to the economic side of 'The Great Divergence', but a text that is in many ways woefully short in offering solutions to the problems it has outlined when social and cultural context is taken into account.