In between the Labor Day picnics and parties, you might be looking for inspiration for the fights ahead for a more equitable world. Our Institute for Policy Studies inequality team put together a list of some of our favorite books, podcasts, and videos. Enjoy!
The Future We Need: Organizing for Economic Democracy in the Twenty-First Century (book)
by Erica Smiley and Sarita Gupta
IPS Global Economy Director Sarah Anderson swears she’s not just recommending this book because co-author Sarita Gupta happens to be the IPS board chair. “Good organizers rarely have the bandwidth to put their wisdom on paper,” Anderson notes. “In this case, two of them somehow found the time and the result is a gift for anyone concerned about building power for the common good.” Smiley directs Jobs With Justice, a position Gupta held before moving to the Ford Foundation. They lay out an inspiring vision, illustrated with real-world examples, of applying collective bargaining principles beyond the workplace to achieve true economic democracy in other arenas, from schools to courthouses. In an Inequality.org commentary drawing from the book, Smiley and Gupta call for “a more expansive view of democracy, one that moves past individual rights and into the realm of shared responsibilities.”
The Wealth of Two Nations: The U.S. Racial Wealth Gap, 1860-2020 (video and report)
by the National Bureau of Economic Research
OK, this one might be a bit on the dry side, but IPS Associate Fellow Dedrick Asante-Muhammad brings it to life in a conversation with Dr. Jared A. Ball of Morgan State University (Dedrick appears at the start of the video’s second hour). The report takes a long view on the U.S. racial wealth divide, finding that the convergence of white and Black wealth achieved after the end of slavery stalled in the 1950s before widening again starting in the 1980s. Today white households have an average of six times as much wealth as Black households. “Some people say Blacks just don’t invest in the right things and if they did, they could close the racial wealth divide,” Asante-Muhammad says. “What this report shows is that even if Blacks got equal returns on their investments — which they don’t because, for example, homes in Black neighborhoods are undervalued — we would still have a three to one divide.”
Labor Union Depictions in Hollywood (podcast)
by Citations Needed Podcast
As a huge film buff, Inequality.org Managing Editor Rebekah Entralgo really enjoyed this two-part podcast series from Citations Needed – a show co-hosted by Nima Shirazi and Adam Johnson about politics and media narratives. The first episode chronicles the impact of problematic depictions of unions as bloated, bureaucratic forces or mobbed up, corrupt arms of the mafia in films like On the Waterfront and The Irishman. The hosts even dive deep into the history of the Academy Awards’ anti-union origins. The second episode highlights more positive depictions of unions in films as being a force for heroism and solidarity, including films like Norma Rae. “I’m always looking for media that marries pop culture, history, and politics,” says Entralgo. “This was the perfect afternoon listen while cleaning up around my apartment on a Sunday.”
Having and Being Had (book)
by Eula Biss
Part memoir and personal essay, part study of economic inequality, Having and Being Had is a collection of short yet evocative insights by the writer Eula Biss on what it means to live – to work, to spend time with your family and friends, to buy and repair a home – under capitalism. Biss was once a struggling artist but now she’s a tenured academic, so she understands that she has climbed a ladder of sorts due to some combination of talent, privilege, and luck. “My adult life can be divided into two distinct parts,” she writes, “the time before I owned a washing machine and the time after.” IPS Researcher Kalena Thomhave recommends this book for anyone who has ever noticed an internal dissonance between enjoying what money can buy and feeling distaste at the system that currently makes it possible.
The Power Broker (book)
by Robert Caro
Looking for a thriller that’ll keep you on the edge of your seat for over a thousand pages? You won’t find any assassins or spooks in Robert Caro’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1974 biography of Robert Moses, the one-time egalitarian who became New York’s most powerful empire-builder. You will find deep insights into why our American polity could not sustain the record economic equality of the mid-20th century. Caro has become much more widely known today for his multi-volume bio of Lyndon Johnson, but this book, says our Inequality.org author Sam Pizzigati, rates as even more compelling. Ever imagine that reading a chapter on the building of a superhighway could leave you sweating and breathless? Read The Power Broker’s chapter on the making of the Cross-Bronx Expressway — and the destruction of our once-unbounded American Dream.
The Colony: The Harrowing True Story Of The Exiles Of Molokai (book)
by John Tayman
IPS Next Leader Rebecca Karpen loves this book. She first read it several years ago, but in trying to understand the chaotic government response to the Covid-19 pandemic, she found herself returning to it. The U.S. government operated a leper colony on an isolated Hawaiian peninsula until 1969, the year man walked on the moon. For 103 years, the federal government sent around 8,000 people of all ages and creeds to die out of fear they would infect others. The parallels to the Covid-19 response, especially in terms of jargon, are stunning and troubling. Beyond the content itself, Tayman creates a vivid and painful account of those forced into exile, many for life, as well as insight into the decisions that shaped the American response to a health crisis. The Colony is as much a book about inequality, colonialism, community, and identity as it is about a disease. A fascinating look into the ethics of American healthcare featuring three dimensional portraits of major figures in the colony’s history. You will cry. A lot.
The Equalizer (TV series)
IPS researcher Helen Flannery recommends this CBS reboot of the classic 1980s TV series. The new Equalizer stars Queen Latifah as Robyn McCall, a former CIA agent turned vigilante defender of justice for marginalized people who have nowhere else to turn. The plots can be formulaic and the screenwriting can sometimes clunk like an old Dashiell Hammett novel. But Queen Latifah, who is an executive producer on the series, makes for a strong and passionate McCall. Women of color have most of the major roles. And the series tackles timely topics from racial profiling, immigrant rights, and LGBTQ+ relationships to internet bullying, PTSD, and the challenges in being proud of your own ethnic heritage.
Davos Man: How the Billionaires Devoured the World (book and video)
by Peter Goodman
IPS Associate Fellow and recovering tax attorney Bob Lord recommends Davos Man by New York Times reporter Peter Goodman. Davos is a reference to the elite confab held every January at an exclusive Swiss ski resort. In a recent Newsweek column, Lord writes that Goodman “documents the vice grip the billionaire class, which he refers to collectively as ‘Davos Man,’ has on policy making in America, and by extension, the industrialized world.” If you’d rather watch than read Goodman, check out his remarks at a Patriotic Millionaires conference earlier this year (minute 33), where he shared juicy firsthand stories from reporting on the Davos summit.
In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio (book)
by Phillippe Bourgois
Anthropologist Phillippe Bourgois immerses himself in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood to produce an ethnographic study of social marginalization situated within the context of the War on Drugs and structural poverty for immigrants in America. First published in 1995, this gut-wrenching story follows the lives of Puerto Rican residents over the course of five years as they search for respect on the margins of society. This was one of IPS Executive Assistant Ashley Sheffield’s favorite books in undergrad and really opened her eyes to compounding systems of oppression and failing social structures. (Warning: includes graphic depictions of sexual assault, drug use, and violence)
Monopolized: Life in the Age of Corporate Power (book)
by David Dayen
Monopolized was the first book IPS Research and Editorial Assistant Bella DeVaan read for a college seminar taught by communications historian Richard John and antimonopoly expert Matt Stoller that ultimately led her to apply to work with Inequality.org. Written by The American Prospect’s Executive Editor, David Dayen, Monopolized details the disastrous impact of monopoly and corporate power on ordinary Americans’ daily experiences. One chapter, for example, connects airline mergers with deregulation that has elevated the risk of blood clots on long-haul flights. Touring readers through private prisons, media conglomerates, and hospital rooms, Dayen spotlights how inequality and its discontents are completely constructed, transformable conditions. He clearly explains how lawmakers’ corporatist convictions have led to the rubber-stamping of merger after merger and he demystifies the functions of our most boring-to-the-average-reader regulatory agencies, all without sacrificing personality and warmth. Monopolized equips readers with sophisticated, useful knowledge of how our government (and its abdicated responsibilities) can structure our lives – and how we can harness power to fight back.
Work Won’t Love You Back: How Devotion to Our Jobs Keeps Us Exploited, Exhausted, and Alone (book)
by Sarah Jaffe
IPS Inequality Research Analyst Brian Wakamo recommends this work by labor journalist Sarah Jaffe on the policies, inequalities, and indignities that led millions of workers to begin the “Great Resignation” and jumpstart the labor movement yet again. Work Won’t Love You Back tells the stories of diverse Americans, from domestic workers to artists, who have to face exploitation, denigration, and poor pay — all while being fed the bogus line that their work must be done “for love.” Jaffe writes wonderfully about these workers and leans on their expertise and experience to give us ideas for building a healthier and more equitable relationship with work. Highlighting union campaigns, mutual aid, and workers co-operatives, this book shows there is, in fact, a better way to build our future – and that future is worker oriented.
Is Inequality in America Irreversible? (book)
by Chuck Collins
OK, this last rec didn’t come from one of us — Chuck is far too modest to plug his own book. But we couldn’t resist noting that his 2018 paperback was recently recommended by none other than the godfather of California Cuisine, Wolfgang Puck. In an interview with the luxury magazine Sphere, Puck dished on his favorite cocktail, wine pairing, and luxury watch. His book recommendations? “I’m reading a book by Chuck Collins called Is Inequality in America Irreversible?,” Puck replied. “It’s about capitalism in America and how everything started to be outsourced to China, to Mexico.” We love reaching new audiences!