Want to dig deeper into inequality? We offer this survey of important reads both classic and contemporary.
Surveys of our unequal economic landscape
The Price of Inequality: How Today’s Divided Society Endangers Our Future
Joseph Stiglitz (W.W. Norton, 2012)
A Nobel Prize-winning economist paints a vivid picture.
99 To 1: How Wealth Inequality Is Wrecking the World and What We Can Do About It
Chuck Collins (Berrett-Koehler, 2012)
A leading economic justice activist clearly and compellingly spells out how unequal we’ve become — and why.
Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else
Chrystia Freeland (Penguin, 2012)
A veteran business editor sharpens the focus on the top 0.1 percent.
The Great Divergence: America’s Growing Inequality Crisis and What We Can Do About It
Timothy Noah (Bloomsbury Press, 2012)
A dispassionate dissection of the various explanations — and obfuscations — that analysts have advanced to help us figure out why we’ve become so unequal.
Measure of a Nation, The: How to Regain America’s Competitive Edge and Boost Our Global Standing
Howard Steven Friedman (Prometheus Books, 2012)
The United States, the developed world’s most unequal major nation, ranks poorly against its peer nations on almost every indicator of social decency and well-being, documents this leading Columbia University statistician.
Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer —
and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class
Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson (Simon & Schuster, 2010)
Two top political scientists tell us when America turned terribly wrong — and how the rich and powerful organized to do the turning.
The Trouble with Billionaires
Linda McQuaig and Neil Brooks (Viking Canada, 2010)
Our ultra rich don’t just have humungous piles of cash. They have, argues this sprightly look at uber wealth, enormous political power, too, enough to make life far rougher for the rest of us than it ever needs to be.
The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger
Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett (Bloomsbury Press, 2009)
By every measure that matters, from social trust to how long we live, relatively equal nations outperform nations where income concentrates at the top.
The Looting of America: How Wall Street’s Game of Fantasy Finance Destroyed Our Jobs, Pensions, and Prosperity
Les Leopold (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2009)
Ever get the feeling that we ordinary mortals will never really understand how high finance power suits melted down the global economy? Tired of feeling clueless? Read this.
Class War? What Americans Really Think about Economic Inequality
Benjamin Page and Lawrence Jacobs (University of Chicago Press, 2009)
Americans, our pundits would have us believe, are too busy trying to become rich to worry about living a society where the rich rule. Actual polling data tell a totally different story.
Unjust Deserts: How the Rich Are Taking Our Common Inheritance and Why We Should Take It Back
Gar Alperovitz and Lew Daly (The New Press, 2008)
If you’re so smart, the classic put-down goes, why aren’t you rich? But our smarts don’t make us rich. These two authors know what does.
Crunch: Why Do I Feel So Squeezed?
Jared Bernstein (Berrett-Koehler, 2008)
How inequality is undermining the lives average Americans lead.
Super Rich: The Rise of Inequality in Britain and the United States
George Irvin (Polity Press, 2008)
To overcome the global meltdown all around us, this British economist reminds us, we need to go back to the future — back to becoming a society that values greater equality.
Rigging the Game: How Inequality Is Reproduced in Everyday Life.
Michael Schwalbe (Oxford University Press, 2008)
How do social orders that privilege some at the expense of others survive? Why do people accept injustice? A thoughtful sociologist is asking questions even egalitarians all too frequently ignore.
Obama’s Challenge: America’s Economic Crisis and the Power of a Transformative Presidency
Robert Kuttner (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2008)
This noted progressive economist saw the crash coming. He sees a solution, too — if we’re willing to confront concentrated wealth.
The Squandering of America: How the Failure of Our Politics Undermines Our Prosperity
Robert Kuttner (Alfred A. Knopf, 2007)
The concentration of wealth at America’s economic summit, the veteran progressive economist Robert Kuttner helps us understand, has consequences we disregard at a peril most grave.
Richistan: A Journey Through the American Wealth Boom and the Lives of the New Rich
Robert Frank (Crown, 2007)
The best up-close profile of life at the economic summit.
Falling Behind: How Rising Inequality Harms the Middle Class
Robert H. Frank (University of California Press, 2007)
Should average Americans spend any quality time worrying about how rich the rich become? Cornell University economist Bob Frank makes a powerful case for worrying about wealth — and taxing the rich.
The Color of Wealth : The Story Behind the U.S. Racial Wealth Divide
Meizhu Lui, Bárbara Robles, Betsy Leondar-Wright, Rose Brewer, and Rebecca Adamson, with United for a Fair Economy (The New Press, 2006)
This team effort by veteran activists and academics relates how conscious political decisions — some made years ago, some just yesterday — have denied millions of people of color the opportunity to accumulate assets and live the American dream.
The Conservative Nanny State: How the Wealthy Use the Government to Stay Rich and Get Richer
Dean Baker (Center for Economic and Policy Research, 2006). Full text available online.
Rich Britain: The rise and rise of the new super-wealthy
Stewart Lansley (Politico’s, 2006)
Advocates for social justice, this exploration into Anglo-American inequality suggests, need to recognize that decency demands more than “a minimum living standard below which it would be socially unacceptable for people to have to live.” Decency may well also demand a “ceiling at the top.”
Inequality Matters: The Growing Economic Divide in America and Its Poisonous Consequences
Edited by James Lardner and David A. Smith (NewPress, 2005)
Inspired by a 2004 national conference held in New York, this essay collection is brimming with insights about inequality and our contemporary condition.
Economic Apartheid in America: A Primer on Economic Inequality and Insecurity
Chuck Collins and Felice Yeskel (New Press, 2005)
This new edition of a work originally published in 2000 makes a useful introductory text for classrooms and study groups.
The Wealth Inequality Reader
Edited by Betsy Leondar-Wright, Amy Offner, Adria Scharf, Meizhu Lui, Amy Gluckman, and Chuck Collins (Dollars & Sense, 2004)
The 25 essays of this collection zero on America’s maldistribution of wealth, exploring both how the United States became so top-heavy and what this excess at the top is doing to us.
Greed and Good: Understanding and Overcoming the Inequality That Limits Our Lives
Sam Pizzigati (The Apex Press, 2004)
America’s richest 1 percent now holds more wealth — over $2 trillion more — than America’s entire bottom 90 percent. Why we should care and what we can do. Full text available online.
The Hidden Cost of Being African American: How Wealth Perpetuates Inequality
Thomas M. Shapiro (Oxford University Press, 2004)
Racial inequality in the United States, the latest studies make clear, is actually widening. How can racial inequality be increasing now that we have knocked down, after years of civil rights struggle, so many of the barriers that have blocked minority access to jobs, skills, and education? Brandeis sociologist Thomas Shapiro supplies an explanation.
The assault on progressive taxation
Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and Stick You with the Bill)
David Cay Johnston (Portfolio, 2008)
The hidden inequities that run all throughout America’s tax system.
Perfectly Legal: The Secret Campaign to Rig Our Tax System to Benefit the Super Rich — And Cheat Everybody Else
David Cay Johnston (Portfolio, 2003)
How attacks on America’s progressive income tax have cemented the nation’s increasing inequality.
Wealth and Our Commonwealth: Why America Should Tax Accumulated Fortunes
Bill Gates Sr. and Chuck Collins (Beacon Press, 2004)
Bill Gates Sr., the father of Microsoft’s Bill Gates, and veteran activist Chuck Collins, co-founder of United for a Fair Economy, have crafted the most readable case for taxing concentrated wealth since the estate tax first became law.
The Rich Don’t Always Win: The Forgotten Triumph over Plutocracy that Created the American Middle Class, 1900-1970
Sam Pizzigati (Seven Stories Press, 2012)
How average Americans trimmed America’s early 20th century super rich down to democratic size.
From Civil Rights to Human Rights: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Struggle for Economic Justice
Thomas F. Jackson (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007)
Martin Luther King, Jr., this new biography engagingly notes, fought for the poor and worried about the rich.
The Big Con: The True Story of How Washington Got Hoodwinked and Hijacked by Crackpot Economics
Jonathan Chait (Houghton Mifflin, 2007)
The growing inequality of the last three decades rests on a flim-flam economic perspective on how the world works.
The Confiscation of American Prosperity: From Right-Wing Extremism and Economic Ideology to the Next Great Depression
Michael Perelman (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007)
No two-bit burglars could have possibly pulled this enormous job off. Making America staggeringly unequal took the coordinated effort of an entire corporate elite.
The Speculation Economy: How Finance Triumphed Over Industry
Lawrence Mitchell. (Berrett-Koehler, 2007)
An obsession with short-term profiteering today dominates America’s corporate executive suites — and enriches top corporate executives. A leading progressive historian explores why.
Age of Betrayal: The Triumph of Money in America, 1865-1900
Jack Beatty (Alfred A. Knopf, 2007)
We now live, astute commentators often observe, in a second Gilded Age. Can we learn anything from the first? Jack Beatty rightfully thinks we can.
Wealth and Democracy: A Political History of the American Rich
Kevin Phillips (Broadway Books, 2003)
How the increasing concentration of wealth in the United States has unfolded.
Securing the Fruits of Labor: The American Concept of Wealth Distribution, 1765-1900
James Huston (Louisiana State University Press, 1998)
Would John Adams approve of a United States where the richest 1 percent hold more wealth than the bottom 90 percent?
Health, Luck, and Justice
Shlomi Segall (Princeton University Press, 2010)
If the wealthy owe their wealth to luck, how should society respond? Philosophy’s ‘luck egalitarians’ are battling to get that question considered.
The Moral Measure of the Economy
Chuck Collins and Mary Wright (Orbis Books, 2007)
Political decisions set the rules that determine how economies operate. Shouldn’t we be asking, asks this insightful new book, what moral values inform those determinations?
Democratic Distributive Justice
Ross Zucker (Cambridge University Press, 2001)
Is true economic justice achievable? Remember, until the late 1700s, philosophers dismissed democracy as impractical.
Analyzing inequality’s distortions
Economics for the Rest of Us: Debunking the Science that Makes Life Dismal
Moshe Adler (New Press, 2010)
A blast against the case that “what’s good for the economy” must always be what’s “good for the rich.”
The $12 Million Stuffed Shark
Don Thompson (Aurum, 2008)
Should we be profusely thanking our super-rich for supporting the arts? An economist explores the interaction of fine art and grand fortune.
The Impact of Inequality: how to make sick societies healthier
Richard G. Wilkinson (New Press, 2005)
How great divides in income and wealth undermine the quality — and even the length — of the lives we lead.
A Short History of Progress
Ronald Wright (Carroll and Graf Publishers, 2005)
Archaeologist and historical philosopher Ronald Wright explains how environmental
degradation, urban collapse, and deep-seated inequality have been going together hand in hand for 4,000 years.
We Used to Own the Bronx: Memoirs of a Former Debutante
Eve Pell (State University of New York Press, 2009)
A refugee from America’s most privileged 400 looks back at a difficult life under great fortune’s shadow.
This Land is Their Land: Reports from a Divided Nation
Barbara Ehrenreich (Henry Holt & Company, 2008)
Engrossing scenes from America’s ever more unequal daily life.
Love the Work, Hate the Job
David Kusnet (John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 2008)
In their rush for jackpots, America’s top corporate executives are doing intolerable damage to enterprise well-being. Who says? America’s professionals!
Classic inequality-related titles
The Big Change: America Transforms Itself, 1900-1950
Frederick Lewis Allen (Harper & Brothers, 1952)
Over a half century ago, in 1952, America’s most celebrated popular historian set out to write the story of the 20th century’s tumultuous first half. The biggest change he found: the demise of America’s dominant plutocracy.
The Acquisitive Society
R. H. Tawney (Harcourt Brace, 1920)
Back in the 1930s, a University of Chicago project set out to list the “72 Great Books of Western Civilization.” Only one book by an author then living made the cut. That one book, The Acquisitive Society, rates as one of the finest book on economic inequality ever written.
Edward Bellamy (originally published 1888)
Over a century ago, the most popular novel in America envisioned a United States that, by the year 2000, had totally conquered inequality.
Progress and Poverty
Henry George (originally published 1879)
“So long as all the increased wealth which modern progress brings goes but to build up great fortunes, to increase luxury and make sharper the contrast between the House of Have and the House of Want,” George wrote in this stunningly popular treatise, “progress is not real and cannot be permanent.”