I just returned from an awesome family vacation in Peru. Although certainly not the highlight of the trip, six plane flights and two lengthy train rides made for a lot of reading. I finished Shattered, the inside look at the Clinton 2016 campaign, then read Locking Up Our Own, an analysis of how black leadership in Washington, DC, helped pave the way to mass incarceration of black Americans, and Toxic Inequality, by Thomas Shapiro, which, of all the books I’ve read on the subject of economic inequality, is one of the very best in terms of insightful analysis.
Each book was excellent, but Toxic Inequality is the most noteworthy.
Shapiro does several things brilliantly. First, he mixes his case studies of families, which he conducted over a 14-year period, from 1998 to 2012, with hard data on economic inequality. The effect is to make sense of the data from a human perspective. It’s compelling. Second, Shapiro shows how it’s the inequality of wealth, far more than the inequality of income in America, that renders sustained social mobility virtually impossible, especially for black Americans. Third, he shows how black America has been systematically shut out of wealth accumulation, with the discrimination continuing to this day. It provides important context for the eye-popping statistics regarding the racial wealth gap presented by Antonio Moore and others. Fourth, he shows how racial wealth inequality in America is inextricably tied to general economic inequality, and why the combination is so toxic to our well being as a society.
From the perspective of breakthrough research and analysis, Toxic Inequality ranks up there with Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century. For those interested in the subject, it’s a must read.
No need to read the final chapter, though. There, Shapiro presents the obligatory hopeful proposed solutions. They’re weak tea, at best. He easily could have raised the possibility of a basic income guarantee or reparations, but steered clear. There’s nothing offensive in that final chapter, but nothing really valuable either.
I’ll try to write future posts on Shattered and Locking Up Our Own, both of which were excellent.