Book Review: Toxic Inequality

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.

14 thoughts on “Book Review: Toxic Inequality”

  1. Bob,

    I would prefer you not delete Huppenthal’s comments. (Or any one else’s comments for that matter.) It is much more helpful if you let him comment, and then respond to point out inaccuracies or misleading statements. I don’t read these blogs to have the debate censored in any way. I am not alone in this view. The way to fight inaccurate or misleading speech is with speech correcting the false or misleading statements. That is the essence of the first amendment.

    • The problem with your approach is that he has infinitely more time to spew his garbage than I have to address it. He’s using this blog as a platform, when he should have long ago created his own platform by starting his own blog.

      We’ll just have to agree to disagree here.

  2. liberals now call themselves progressives sen. boxer of ca. once said when called a liberal. bernie sanders is a proud social democrat and will tell you so. even though establishment democrats wince when he say it. I am a radical left and damn proud of it! why are democrat candidates when asking for advice told not to put the word democrat on their signs. when I ran many years ago I put the word democrat on my signs! this might be a duplicate.

    • Captain, I don’t disagree, but what the hell does your comment have to do with the post? Be careful. I don’t want you becoming the John Huppenthal (or, if you prefer, Thucky) of the left.

      We need you sober and making sense, okay?

  3. Liberals (sorry, l meant progressives), and conservatives can argue about equality/inequality until the cows come home and get nowhere because most of them view the issue differently.
    Conservatives view it as equality of opportunity and many liberals view it as equality of outcomes. Big difference!

    • The author’s point is that the degree of inequality of wealth renders equality of opportunity a fantasy in America.

  4. this is not politically correct ; but doing away with pro sports would have the biggest impact, as too many young black boys think they don’t have to study in school because they are going to be profession athletes. and when their dream ends to many have nothing. they should at least be educated to what will happen to them when the dram ends and they no longer of value for their athleticism.

    • Actually, there are young, black intellectuals who are making that very point. You should check out The Decadant Veil, by Antonio Moore if you’re interested in the subject.

  5. Continuation of the bullshit parade. Your last book, Killing the Host, was 440 pages of one bullshit story after another. I gave up after 200 pages, it was too excruciating. There wasn’t even an analytic argument to refute.

    I just pulled up the Amazon sample for Toxic Inequality and it invalidates the entire book. The author tells the story of the one family, analyzed first from 1998 to 2000 and then again from, 2010 to 2014.

    Analyzed in 1998, the woman, a single mom, is living on welfare payments of $700 per month. Cut to 2014, she is making $50,000 per year, married and the $50,000 doesn’t include her husband’s income. She is living in a home with a market value of $300,000 and saving $10,000 per year.

    Note to readers: JH leaves out important facts here. For example, part of the story is that the woman was a victim of a predatory lending program by Countrywide, targeting blacks, which caused her to lose her entire investment in the home. It is still underwater.

    Somehow he manages to tell this story and make her sound like a living victim every inch of the way instead of woman with grit, determination and a work ethic second to none- a woman who refused to be a victim.

    Note to readers: Completely untrue. The author notes how she was one person who beat the odds and characterizes her as a success story.

    America the land of toxic inequality? You have to be kidding. Only through a complete bastardization of the numbers gini coefficients et all can you pull this bullshit off plus knowing that no one on the left can add 2+2.

    • Dear John,

      Are you suggesting that everyone in our country has a genuine opportunity to be upwardly mobile? Or that there is no such thing as circumstances outside of one’s control preventing that economic mobility?

      Surely you jest.

      • No, the story in the book directly points to one source of inequality. The woman in the story calls her local district school “dirt.” She lives in California, not Arizona, so she and her children are stuck with that disaster. The author, to his credit, agrees with her, the school is ineffective and she and her children are stuck with it until they can buy a more expensive home.

        District schools, minimum wages, welfare all trap the poor at low levels of income. Paradoxically, this tough woman in the book completely disproves the thesis and title of the book. The rich aren’t this woman’s problem. She’s more than capable of working her way out of poverty and and willing to do so.

      • Steve, he never misses an opportunity to miss the point. If you accept his logic, he’s saying that the ability of a few to succeed against long odds means there’s no need to adjust the odds. That’s why he intentionally misconstrued the story of the single woman. If he read the book with an open mind, he might come to understand where he has it wrong, but he’s too intellectually lazy and too intellectually dishonest for that.

        • Oh, I didn’t misconstrue that story at all.

          NOTE TO READERS: I’ve deleted the remainder of this comment. Some of the “facts” cited had been altered and others had been cherry-picked in order to paint a misleading picture. If John wishes to engage in that sort of conduct, he should do so on his own blog. Bob Lord

    • Bob,

      You leave out that the housing surge created the $100,000 in equity which was her down payment on her $300,000 home.

      You can call her loan “predatory lending.” That’s a meaningless phrase invented by liberals to cover up their creation of the whole “liar loan” phenomena.

      Bottom line, she ends up in the book making $50,000 per year, not including her husband’s income – up from $700 per month in welfare at the beginning and portrayed as a victim by the author every step of the way through the story.

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