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Some Annotated References on Economic Inequality

Note: The primary sources in each category of books, which are listed prior to the secondary sources, are those used in Sessions 1 - 6 of the UUJEC Curriculum on the “Escalating Inequality”. Note also that while the websites and other online sources that follow maybe more accessible, they may also disappear or be altered over time, so be prepared to search for replacement or updated sources.


Books on Inequality in History

    Primary Sources:

War and Peace and War – the Rise and Fall of Empires (A Radical New Theory of World History with Implications for Nations Today) by Peter Turchin, 2007. A compelling read – a grand theory of world history – in which inequality plays a powerful role. Think of Rome and the history of Europe. An empire begins with strong social cohesion (the “asabiya” of Ibn Khaldun) characterized by relative social and economic equality. As it develops, gains in wealth flow increasingly to the elites, whose unchecked exploitation of natural and human resources eventually destroys the asabiya and damages the economy. Then calamities like civil war, invasions, or pandemics kill both elites and commoners alike in a great leveling, setting the stage for the next empire.

Capital in the 21st Century by Thomas Piketty, 2014. Based on a survey of wealth and income inequality in Europe and the U.S. since the 18th century, this weighty best-seller argues that the trend toward in-equality is not an accident, but a feature of unchecked capitalism, only to be countered by systematic state intervention. The central thesis is that, when the rate of return on capital (r) is greater than the rate of economic growth (g) over the long term, the result is concentration of wealth, resulting in serious social and economic instability. The period from 1930 to 1975 saw a unique reversal of this trend in reaction to two World Wars and the Great Depression, which destroyed much wealth, including that of the elite. These catastrophes led governments to move towards income redistribution, especially after World War II. The fast economic growth of that time reduced the effect of inherited wealth. Since the late 70’s, however, the trend has returned to inequality and patrimonial capitalism, in which economics and politics are dominated by inherited wealth. Piketty proposes a global system of progressive wealth taxes to help reduce inequality and trends to oligarchy.

Debt – The First 5000 Years by David Graeber,2011. This is a thick book, but a real classic, a fascinating read, and an eye-opener on the origins of economic inequality. Graeber is a noted anthropologist who covers a vast territory ignored by economists. He’s also an activist who advised the Wall Street Occupiers. This book is an invaluable guide to the origins of money and debt and how tribal and agrarian societies, including Chinese & Islamic regimes, sought to prevent debt servitude.

Land of Promise – An Economic History of the United States by Michael Lind, 2012. This is an informative economic history of the US that favors the industrial and financial development promoted by Alexander Hamilton over Thomas Jefferson’s more agrarian vision. But he then champions the stability and equity of the New Deal in the 20th century and laments its dismantling and resulting rise in inequality after Richard Nixon. He holds out the promise of reversing this to create a transcendent Fourth Republic, though he does not reckon with limits-to-growth.

Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism by Ha-Joon Chang.  Very stimulating book by a heterodox Cambridge economist on the disadvantages of “free trade” enterprises and the advantages of State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) or hybrid enterprises, especially for “natural monopolies”-– utilities, railroads, communication networks. Also good discussions of regulations, subsidies, protective tariffs, and intellectual property.

     Secondary Sources:

Why Nations Fail – The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, 2012.  This readable, but over-confident, book seeks a grand theory of economic growth, focused on “extractive” vs. “inclusive” economic and political institutions. As a grand theory it is a failure because it either dismisses or ignores the complexity of the real world, especially fundamental limits to growth from the natural world. Yet it does have much of value to say about the importance of equality, and countervailing forces, in certain historical contexts. For example, it illustrates how elites sometimes sabotage general prosperity and democracy because it would threaten their personal wealth and power. Yet they fail to explain the many examples of successful development by authoritarian elites. Also their theme of societal failure via civil war among the elites completely ignores limits to growth and other underlying factors. Links to  Review by Jeffrey SachsReview by Jared Diamond

Wealth and Democracy – A Political History of the American Rich by Kevin Phillips, 2003. Phillips examines US economic history and finds disturbing parallels to state failures of the past (in Spain, Netherlands, Britain). Due to rising wealth inequality and the financialization of the economy, he sees the US as a plutocracy today, a nation heading into decline. Plenty of good data.

The Global Minotaur – America, Europe, and the Future of the Global Economy by Yanis Varoufakis, 2013.  

This excellent book analyzes inequality among countries as a product of financial flows between them. Countries with trade surpluses need to somehow recycle their profits back to their trade deficit customers so that their customers can buy the industrial goods of the surplus countries. This may be done in a way that benefits all, as in the “Global Plan” devised by the US after WW II, guiding the golden age of capitalism. Or it may create inequality when it is organized around Wall Street and so-called free trade, as it has since the 1970s. Varoufakis labels this neo-liberal regime by the more sinister name, the Global Minotaur (half human / half bull) of Greek mythology. After the financial crash of 2008, a new global regime has yet to emerge, but Varoufakis, appointed finance minister of the Syriza government in Greece in January 2015, knows exactly what to do if political gridlock can be overcome.


Books on Inequality in Economics

    Primary Sources:

23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism by Ha-Joon Chang, 2010. A leading heterodox institutional economist specializing in development debunks the free-market orthodoxy in 23 entertaining, but thought-provoking short essays. Chapter titles include: "There is no such thing as a free market," "Companies should not be run in the interest of their owners," “The washing machine has changed the world more than the internet has," “Greater macro-economic stability has not made the world economy more stable,” “The U.S. does not have the highest living standard in the world,” “Making rich people richer doesn't make the rest of us richer,” “More education in itself is not going to make a country richer,” “Equality of opportunity may not be fair,” and “Good economic policy does not require good economists.” This may be the best popular book on real-world economics that you’ll ever read.

    Secondary Sources:

Debunking Economics – The Naked Emperor Dethroned? by Steve Keen, 2011. A celebrated expose’ by the world’s top renegade economist, the only one to develop a mathematical theory of money that predicted the financial crash of 2008. This substantial book is for those with a scientific or mathematical bent who’ve always wondered about the disconnect between microeconomics and real world economics. Keen systematically demolishes microeconomics, from its bad reasoning to it ludicrous hypotheses. Yet he also exposes a culture where top researchers often knew of these faults but kept them hidden from students. Why? Because neo-classical economic theory had become the ideological foundation, not just for Alan Greenspan’s bubble, but also for all the other “neo-liberal” policies that led directly to today’s extreme economic inequality.

The Assumptions Economists Make by Johnathan Schlefer, 2012. Schlefer does a yeoman’s job of debunking neo-classical economic theory, in a less technical manner than Steve Keen, with special emphasis on its spectacular failure to halt the financial crash of 2008 and the longer term slide toward extreme inequality. Economists tailor their assumptions to support deregulated capitalism, not understanding the fundamentals of real world economies, where the best insights often come from other disciplines.

Demand Side Economics – Demand Side Minds (From John Maynard Keynes to Nouriel Roubini and Beyond) by Alan Harvey, 2012. This short, readable book gives an excellent introduction to eminent economic thinkers who have challenged the supply side orthodoxy that has left so many without jobs or with depressed wages. Their basic axiom is that “output is determined by effective demand” and that the proper role of government in a recession is to stimulate demand toward full employment while clamping down on speculation in a bubble.

Economics of Good and Evil – The Quest for Economic Meaning from Gilgamesh to Wall Street by Tomas Sedlacek, 2011. As a public intellectual, Sedlacek dares to question the morality of current economics by examining the roots of religion in the economics of greed. First he takes the Bible seriously as a moral document, deeply rooted in the economics of the era. Then it’s Sumerian literature, Greek philosophy, medieval theology, all the way to the Enlightenment, where he exposes the primal myth of modern economics – “homo economicus”. Now the biblical morality of the “Jubilee Year”(= debt forgiveness) benefits mostly Wall Street speculators (the bail outs) instead of working people with their predatory loans, underwater mortgages, or monstrous student debts.

The Economics Anti-Textbook – A Critical Thinker’s Guide to Micro-Economics by Rod Hill and Tony Myatt, 2010. If you’ve taken an Econ 101 course in micro-economics and had doubts, this book will confirms them in abundance. It goes through each section of a traditional textbook, first giving the standard pitch, then explaining the reality, using experience actual economies to debunk the false assumptions and simplistic models.

Economyths – Ten Ways Economists Get It Wrong by David Orrell, 2010. Orrell devotes one chapter to demolishing each myth, from the point of view of a broadly educated scientist and writer who understands the mathematics of complexity. Typical myths are that the economy is “rational and efficient”, that it is “stable” with “risk being easily managed by statistics”, that it is “made up of individuals” governed by simple “economic laws”, that it is “fair”, and that “growth is always good”. Very clear eyed thinking by someone hasn’t drunk the Kool-Aid of neo-classical theory.

Deep Economy – The Wealth of Communities and The Durable Future by Bill McKibben, 2008. A direct challenge to the imperative of economic growth from one of our foremost environmental writers and activists. He calls for a relocalized economy that is less resource intensive as the only way to sustainability.

Sacred Economics – Money, Gift, & Society in the Age of Transition by Charles Eisenstein, 2011.  This eloquent book seeks to transform money from the root of all evil to a sacred concept. A new system of money and credit will smooth the way to a world that will de-grow into a new kind of gift economy, combining lessons from primitive societies with modern technology and finance. It will be sustainable by becoming vastly reduced in size and consumption but much stronger in community. Eisenstein has a number of practical policy recommendations based on solid readings in several fields. However he sometimes contradicts himself when he lapses into rhetoric designed to appeal to an audience that is both spiritual and affluent.

This Changes Everything – Capitalism vs the Climate by Naomi Klein, 2014. Naomi Klein follows up on her seminal work “The Shock Doctrine” by linking free market capitalism to increasing greenhouse gas emissions. Her goal is to unite all protest movements, including the uprising against extreme inequality, in a direct challenge to market fundamentalism and mindless economic growth. For individuals, even industries, “going green” isn’t enough: our entire global economic system must be redone to consume less, especially its trade and taxes. The wealthy not only consume far more, they also use their political power to fight against true sustainability and equity.

The Disinherited Majority: Capital Questions – Piketty and Beyond by Charles Derber, 2015. Derber captures the essence of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century from the point of view of a progressive sociologist / political economist. He describes the tension between Piketty 1 (the mainstream economist) and Piketty 2 (the progressive activist). He challenges Piketty and other progressives to a deeper political and class analysis: To move beyond divisive “castes” (= social class or identity) to political action based on “classes” (= economic class). “Concentrated wealth has emerged as the primary enemy of democracy and the American Dream.”


Books on Inequality in Current Issues

    Primary Sources:

99 to 1 – How Wealth Inequality Is Wrecking the World and What We Can Do About It by Chuck Collins, 2012. This short and very readable book explains how the rule-riggers created the current wealth inequality and how dysfunctional it is for the 99%, often even the 1%. Collins was born into wealth but then renounced it, so he can show us both the numbers and the inside story with a clear conscience.

The Price of Inequality—How Today's Divided Society Endangers Our Future by Joseph Stiglitz, 2012.  Nobel Prize winning economist Stiglitz refutes the conventional economic “wisdom” that incomes (and consequent wealth) are in proportion to productive contributions to society. Instead, the book shows that much of our extraordinary income concentration is due to "rent seeking" by the wealthy, and that this involves taking some kind of unearned advantage not just of customers, business partners, or competitors, but of taxpayers. We have a system that actively redistributes income and wealth (and political power) from huge numbers of people at the bottom of the pyramid to a tiny number at the very top through unfair and unproductive government policy. For each government policy that wealth has distorted in its favor, Stiglitz also lays out the correctives needed to create a more dynamic economy and a more equal society.

Divided – The Perils of Our Growing Inequality by David Cay Johnston, editor, 2014. This book provides a broad introduction to the challenge of growing inequality by compiling short writings from 40 of today’s leading analysts and activists.

The Spirit Level—Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett.  The book demonstrates that, quite aside from absolute levels of poverty, relative inequality has pernicious effects on societies: eroding trust, increasing anxiety and illness, and encouraging excessive consumption. The common factor that links the healthiest and happiest societies – whether each society as a whole is rich or poor -- is the degree of equality among its members. Further, more unequal societies are bad for all their members – the rich and middle-class as well as the poor. This book examines the effect of greater inequality within a society on 11 different health and social problems:  physical health, mental health, drug abuse, educational achievement, trust in community life, obesity, social mobility, imprisonment, violence, child welfare, teen-age pregnancies. Outcomes are clearly worse in more unequal societies.

What Then Must We Do – Straight Talk About the Next American Revolution (Democratizing Wealth and Building A Community Sustaining Economy from the Ground Up) by Gar Alperovitz, 2013. This short book gives a good overview of Alperovitz’ take on how we can build on the long tradition of non-profits, cooperatives, and public enterprise in the United States. His goal is to retake ownership of our economy from the corporate pillagers, from Wall Street to pharmaceuticals. Steps to rebuild the power of the people.

The End of Growth – Adapting to Our New Economic Reality by Richard Heinberg, 2011. The foremost popularizer in the Limits-to-Growth tradition shows the current stagnation of global economic growth, which has baffled economists, is easily explained when you study energy resources and costs, especially oil. Is modern civilization itself a giant bubble, slated for collapse as it overruns its resource base? Heinberg gives great overviews of the financial bubble, the debt trap, the Chinese bubble, limits-to-resources, limits-to-technology, and the failure of economics. Read in conjunction with the works of Turchin and Piketty, the underlying cause of escalating economic inequality becomes obvious, along with a sober view toward the tough times ahead.


Dollarocracy: How the Money and Media Election Complex is Destroying America by John Nichols and Robert McChesney, 2013. This book provides historical context and a well researched and very readable account of how large corporations and billionaires have come to dominate the political process, in addition to the workings of the 'money-and-media election complex. The election of 2012 is analyzed in detail. Addresses common sense voting reforms but not the underlying system of free market capitalism that created the dollarocracy.

How Much Do We Deserve – An Inquiry into Distributive Justice by Richard Gilbert, 2001. Excellent summary of the problem of inequality from the point of view of religious and moral values in the context of the escalating inequality of recent decades. Gilbert helps guide our advocacy work toward 4 benefits of equality: (1) freedom or options, (2) fair share, (3) community, and (4) moral sensitivity. He also includes 6 guidelines, or “canons”, for our advocacy:  (1) meets basic needs, (2) limits excessive consumption, (3) strengthens the common good, (4) reasonably rewards productive work, (5) rewards effort and sacrifice for others, (6) reasonably rewards scarce skills. Gilbert concludes with good policy recommendations.

Cornered – The New Monopoly Capitalism and the Economics of Destruction by Barry Lynn, 2010. A hard hitting expose’ of the destructive monopolistic practices in the United States, with vivid stories from many current industries. Lynn also narrates the long history of monopoly and anti-monopoly in the US, how Wall Street is now in charge, and the current regulatory capture could be reversed.

Missing Class – Strengthening Social Movements by Seeing Class Cultures by Betsy Leondar-Wright, 2014. A very useful book for activists seeking to bridge class differences, based on interviews of 362 members from 25 leftist groups in 5 states, plus transcripts of 100 of their meetings. Some groups are torn apart by conflict that is rooted in class differences. But with awareness these differences can be a source of strength.

     Secondary Sources:

The Wealth Inequality Reader, 3rd Edition, from Dollars and Sense, 2009. 42 substantive, engaging essays explore the hidden vector of wealth inequality: its causes, its consequences, and strategies for change. Plus: an illustrated overview offers the latest statistics on wealth inequality in a series of one-page snapshots. 

Why Things Are Going to Get Worse and Why We Should Be Glad by Michael Roscoe, 2014. Roscoe develops a great economic program for a world reaching its limits-to-growth, based on intriguing numbers and very readable graphs. He estimates that a third of current world GDP consists of a credit bubble that needs to deflate to reduce inequality. His economic program would mean keeping market economies but nationalizing key industries, such as big banks. It would also mean democratic global governance to support a global currency and global bank, and to outlaw of tax evasion, off shore banking, and damaging speculation, plus to direct coordinated action against climate change. National government policy goals would include full employment and investment in infrastructure, taxing or preventing excessive compensation and accumulated wealth, and significant reduction in the use of fossil fuels. 

Beyond Outrage: What Has Gone Wrong with Our Economy and Our Democracy, and How to Fix It by Robert Reich. This accessible book “connects the dots” in three parts: 1) explaining why the U.S. public justifiably feels that “the game is rigged” to favor the wealthy, 2) dissecting how the "regressive right" has nonetheless argued for cutting taxes even more on corporations and the rich while cutting public services, and 3) urging average people to move beyond outrage to take back our economy and democracy. The diagnosis is convincing; the prescription is more exhortation and policy outline than detailed program.

Economic Apartheid in America – A Primer on Economic Inequality an Insecurity by Chuck Collins and Felice Yeskel, 2005. Very readable with all the essentials, with graphics, quotes, boxed summaries, etc. “The Rising Tide Lifts Only the Yachts”.

Agenda for a New Economy – From Phantom Wealth to Real Wealth (Why Wall Street Can’t Be Fixed and How to Replace It) by David Korten, 2009. An energizing and hard hitting response to the Wall Street swindles, grounded in 7 principles for healthy living systems. Korten’s 12 point agenda call’s us to regain control of our financial system, to include “an equitable distribution of wealth and income”. He shows how Wall Street’s phantom wealth is used to rob us our real wealth. (RHB)

Econned – How Unenlightened Self Interest Undermined Democracy and Corrupted Capitalism by Ives Smith, 2010. A compelling insider’s account of how the Wall Street swindles were engineered and a devastating critique of the neo classical economic theory used to justify the financial deregulation that led to the crash of 2008.

Capitalism 3.0 – A Guide to Reclaiming the Commons by Peter Barnes, 2006. A valiant attempt by a progressive capitalist to save capitalism from itself. Barnes develops the concept of a “common property trust” as a legal mechanism that could be used save certain assets, such as land or air or water, for the benefit of all, especially future generations. A Board of Trustees would lease usage permits with the proceeds being split between government and citizens, like the Alaska Permanent Fund. The people would retain ownership of airwaves or minerals instead of having them sold off and would be able to impose a cost on pollution.

The Crash Course – The Unsustainable Future of Our Economy, Energy, and Environment by Chris Martenson, 2011. From a researcher with both an academic and business background, a popular read on the imminent end of growth and how to protect yourself from the next financial / debt crisis.

Wealth and Our Commonwealth: Why America Should Tax Accumulated Fortunes by William Gates and Chuck Collins, 2004.  Gates, the father of the billionaire founder of Microsoft, and Collins, cofounder of the non-profit United for a Fair Economy, argued in this 2004 book against the Bush administration's proposed repeal of the estate tax, but their general arguments on this perennially controversial tax remain valid. Though wealth may accrue to an individual through hard work and smart (or fortunate) choices, society provides the indispensable environment for that individual's success through its investments in infrastructure, economic development, education, health care, and property rights protection. A reasonable estate tax is a legitimate return on these social investments. Estate taxes also address the Founding Fathers' concern with maintaining conditions of equitability that enable enterprising Americans to make a fortunes within their lifetimes without creating a new aristocracy.

The Color of Wealth: The Story Behind the U.S. Racial Wealth Divide by Meishu Lui, Barabara Robles, Betsdy Leondar-Wright, Rose Brewer, and Rebecca Adamson, 2006. This book analyzes the disturbing wealth divide between European Americans and African Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans, and Latinos, a divide which has only worsened. Policy reforms are also discussed.

The Trouble with Diversity: How We Learned To Love Identity and Ignore Inequality by Walter Benn Michaels, 2007. In this bitingly provocative book, Michaels made the prescient argument that America’s growing economic inequality is connected to a deeply ingrained class structure -- which our focus on identity diversity and multiculturalism helps us ignore. Not only does our love of racial and ethnic identity reinforce the very ideas of racial essentialism that it claims to repudiate; it obscures the gap between rich and poor and sometimes even misrepresents poverty itself in ways that reduce progressive politics to symbolic etiquette and cultural flattery. Instead of this false version of social justice, one that too conveniently costs us nothing, Michaels calls for a radical commitment to economic and social equality. Michaels doesn’t really want to do away with identity issues, but he wants political priority for economic inequality --– and also to distinguish between arguments suited to identity and to economics.

Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich, 2001. When 1990s welfare reform pushed 12 million women into low-end employment, Barbara Ehrenreich did some old-fashioned journalism to see if she could sustain herself as an unskilled worker a month at a time. Over two years, she worked as a waitress, hotel maid, cleaning woman, nursing-home aide, and Wal-Mart sales clerk. She found that even the lowest-paying "unskilled" job demanded huge physical and mental effort. She also learned that one job did not provide a living wage; she needed two to scrape by. This is an easy read, but a scathing revelation of life at the bottom of our economy, even in prosperous times.

Hand to Mouth – Living in Bootstrap America by Linda Tirado, 2014. A lay-it-all-out, sometimes angry, sometimes funny life story of cycling between middle class and poverty. She knows first hand why people living in poverty often can’t eat right or stay in shape when they are struggling to pay the rent, even while holding down multiple jobs. It is simple lack of money, not character, that makes the difference.

Ill Fares the Land by Tony Judt, 2011. In a beautifully written book, modern historian Tony Judt shows how growing inequality is corroding our democratic values. It has led us not only to economic crisis, but to a deep failure of public discourse, eliminating from contemporary public debate the values of pre-1960s social democracy – equality, citizens’ trust of each other and of their government, and a belief in the public sphere as an effective way to solve problems. We need to regain the ability to speak about our society’s economic arrangements in moral terms and to revive a coherent narrative of social democracy.

The Great Divergence—America’s Inequality Crisis and What We Can Do About It by Timothy Noah, 2013.  This is a good introductory survey of the whole topic of the increase in economic inequality in America in the last 40 years since the late 1970s (a period in U.S. economic history dubbed “The Great Divergence” by economist Paul Krugman). Noah’s book examines our inequality in historical perspective, its most important ramifications in society, and the factors causing it.

Who Stole the American Dream by Hedrick Smith, 2013.  Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Hedrick Smith provides a readable, comprehensible, though somewhat conspiratorial account of how the American Dream of broad middle-class prosperity has been betrayed over the past forty years by sweeping changes both in govern-ment policies and in the mind-set and practices of American business leaders.

Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age by Larry Bartels, 2010. Using data from the past six decades, Bartels shows how the gap between rich and poor has decreased slightly under Democratic administrations and in-creased under Republicans, producing widening inequality in the long run. This is not simply the result of economic forces, but of far-reaching policy choices shaped by a political system susceptible to partisan ideologies and the influence of the rich. Elected officials respond to the interests of affluent constituents but ignore poor citizens. Bartels provides revealing case studies of key policy shifts, including the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 and the erosion of the minimum wage.

Affluence and Influence: Economic Inequality and Political Power in America by Martin Gilens, 2014. Democracy is based on the ideal that every citizen has an equal potential to influence what government does. But this book provides the cold, hard data and the rigorous analysis to show that U.S. government policy responds almost exclusively to the preferences of the affluent, and usually ignores the preferences and interests of the poor and the middle class. Gilens shows that this inequality holds across different policy domains and time periods.

Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy by Christopher Hayes, 2013. Our post-civil-rights-era meritocratic professional and managerial elite, though pro-fessing equality of opportunity and more open to minorities and women, has yet contributed to widened income inequality and to lower general social mobility since the mid-seventies. By design, meritocracy aims for inequality of outcome. Quite aside from questions about the reality of true merit or how we can recognize it, Hayes sees meritocracy tending toward oligarchy over time. Those who climb the ladder of success based on skills then rig the game by pulling the ladder up after them. They pass their wealth, cultural advantages, and power on to their heirs. As these meritocratic elites solidify their economic and political positions, they become complacent and out of touch with the real life problems of other citizens. Though short on details of a remedy, this intellectually ambitious but readable book advocates redistributive taxes to reduce inequality; the resulting narrowed inequality will then make the elite more socially responsive.

The Power Elite by C. Wright Mills, 1956. This classic of American social criticism posits that the history of U.S. elites has resulted with the cold-war era in a unified "power elite." Our major national decisions are made not by a multiplicity of competing groups or citizens, but by this elite through its leadership of our dominant corporate, political, and military institutions. The members of the power elite tend to share common outlooks and values as a result of similar privileged upbringing, educational backgrounds, economic advantages, and aspirations. Rather than men of ideas, they tend to be practical and conservative, with a shared sense of the "sound judgment" necessary to run society. The leaders of our three major institutions now form an interlocking, contiguous whole, moving easily between command posts in the three areas. It's this kind of mobility, along with the shared outlook of the elite leaders, that creates the military-industrial-political complex -- not an intentional conspiracy.

Who Rules America? The Triumph of the Corporate Rich (7th ed., 2013) by William Domhoff.  Americans have been reluctant to recognize an economic class system in the U.S. This classic text, first published in 1967 but updated through 7 editions, argues from extensive empirical evidence and analysis that the owners and top-level managers of large income-producing properties constitute the top-most American ruling class. Domhoff relates how the corporate rich connect and propagate through joining business organizations, elite non-profits, expensive private schools, and exclusive clubs. He also lays out the business associations, think tanks, law firms, foundations, consultancies, political organizations, and media that this highest elite uses to influence public policy and opinion.

The XX Factor: How Seventy Million Working Women Created A New Society by Alison Wolf, 2013. A ground breaking book about the unexpected consequences of feminism: A huge economic gulf has emerged between professional women and working class women. In London and Manhattan the job prospects of lower class women may be more like that of their great grandmothers than that of their mothers – working as servants, for example. The shrinking middle class and escalating inequality has fractured feminist strategy, provoking controversy.

Illegal People: How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants by David Bacon 2009. Bacon, an award-winning photojournalist, labor organizer, and immigrant-rights activist, ties interviews and personal histories to hard data and political analysis to provide a vivid picture of what life is like for undocumented workers with minimal rights or protections in an increasingly globalized economy. Bacon makes clear the connections between “illegal” immigration and issues like free trade, unionization, and widening disparities between rich and poor.

ReMaking America, edited by Richard McCormack, 2013. With the right policies, the authors argue, manufacturing may see a new dawn in America along with the wealth and growth opportunities needed to keep the American Dream alive.

Factory Man by Beth Macy, 2014. An inspiring best seller on how one furniture maker battled offshoring, stayed local, and helped save an American town. The man was John Bassett III of Bassett of Bassett Furniture Co. in Bassett, North Carolina, a state devastated by the loss of manufacturing jobs.

American Dream by Jason DeParle 2005. “Three Women, Ten Kids, and a Nation's Drive to End Welfare” chronicles the effects of welfare reform on three women in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, including the long history of black poverty and its terrible toll.

Websites on Current Issues of Inequality

  • Institute for Policy Studies . The “Inequality, Poverty, and Wealth” project includes the program on “Inequality and the Common Good”, headed by Chuck Collins. This includes (good data, analysis, quotes, and commentary on wealth and income disparity), Too Much (commentary on excess and inequality), Resilience Circles, Class Action. Offers a variety of workshops and assistance for groups dealing with issues of class), Wealth for the Common Good (one percenters who want a more equitable economy).
  • Resource Generation This group organizes young people with wealth and class privilege in the U.S. to become transformative leaders towards the equitable distribution of wealth, land, and power.
  • New Economy Working Group. An informal alliance of the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) as an initial policy think tank partner, YES! magazine as an initial media partner and the Living Economies Forum as an initial system design partner.
  • Institute for New Economic Thinking Seeks to nurture a global community of next-generation economic leaders, to provoke new economic thinking, with support from George Soros and many progressive economists, such as Joseph Stiglitz.
  • New Economy Coalition. A coalition of many groups for an economy that is restorative to people, place, and planet, and that operates according to principles of democracy, justice and appropriate scale. This coalition recognizes that shared prosperity, sustainability and an equitable society require deep, systemic changes to both our economy and our politics.
  • Business for a Fair Minimum Wage  Mobilizes businesses to support raising the minimum wage, since businesses know that they will do better with more customers and since businesses who already pay well won’t be undercut by those who pay substandard wages.
  • United for a Fair Economy .  Co-founded by Chuck Collins, this provides education and training on taxes, wealth inequality, racial and class disparities, etc.
  • UUs for a Just Economic Community. UUJEC is an organization of UU advocates for economic justice that has been active at the General Assembly for many years, organizing workshops and developing resolutions, also organizing special conferences and materials for congregations.
  • UU Service Committee. UUSC advances human rights and social justice around the world, partnering with those who confront unjust power structures and mobilizing to challenge oppressive policies. In the US, this includes supporting living wages, fair trade, and workers’ right to organize, raising the minimum wage to start with.
  • Worship Words Search for quotations of inspiration and wisdom on “economy”, “justice”, or other topics
  • Economic Policy Institute.This is a think tank devoted to the needs of low- and middle-income workers in economic policy discussions, especially good jobs with fair pay, affordable health care, and retirement security. Lots of good data on recent economic trends.
  • Equality Trust . Founded by Wilkinson and Pickett, the Equality Trust works to improve the quality of life in the UK by reducing economic inequality.
  • . This is a forum of provocative articles by innovative thinkers focused on building resilience in a world of multiple emerging challenges: the decline of cheap energy, the depletion of critical resources like water, complex environmental crises like climate change and biodiversity loss, and the social and economic issues which are linked to these. A project of the Post Carbon Institute.
  • Institute for Local Self Reliance . This is an action oriented think tank that researches innovative strategies, working models, and timely information to support environmentally sound and equitable community development. Helps local groups and governments to develop practical projects such as in energy, banking, and communications.
  • Transition Network. Led by Rob Hopkins, the role of this activist group is to inspire, encourage, connect, support and train communities as they self-organize around the Transition model, creating initiatives that rebuild resilience and reduce CO2 emissions. A noted feature is the creation of an energy descent action plan for each community, building on awareness of both climate change and peak oil.
  • Interfaith Worker Justice  This group mobilizes people of faith and worker advocates in support of economic justice and worker rights at the local, state and national levels. Currently, wage theft and paid sick days are top issues.
  • Jobs with Justice A leading organization fighting for worker’s rights that is good at mobilizing other groups to help empower workers.

  • American Friends Service Committee A long time ally of UU advocates for justice, this group has a strong faith presence in Washington, DC. “Just Economics” is one of its core areas of advocacy, including budget priorities, corporate power, and economic inequality.
  • Americans for Financial Reform . This is a coalition of more than 200 civil rights, consumer, labor, business, investor, faith-based, and civic groups formed in the wake of the 2008 crisis. It’s purpose is to lay the foundation for a strong, stable, and ethical financial system. It has been effective in strengthening the Dodd- Frank bill and consumer protections.
  • Center for American Progress  This is an educational institute dedicated to progressive ideas and action, expansion of the middle class.
  •  The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities This policy organization focuses at the federal and state levels on fiscal policy and public programs that affect low- and moderate-income families and individuals, including taxes, wages, health care, and poverty programs,
  • Move to Amend. Led by David Cobb, this advocacy coalition calls for an amendment to the US Constitution to unequivocally state that inalienable rights belong to human beings only, and that money is not a form of protected free speech under the First Amendment and can be regulated in political campaigns.
  • Public Citizen  Led by Robert Weissman, Public Citizen serves as the people’s voice in the nation’s capital, directly challenging the machinations of power. Key issues have been corporate abuses and unfair trade agreements.
  • Dollars and Sense.  This organization publishes a magazine with economic news and analysis, reports on economic justice activism, primers on economic topics, and critiques of the mainstream media's coverage of the economy, also anthologies and textbooks for students.
  • Post Growth Institute. Post growth is about building on the existing aspects of our world that are sustainable in order to create resilient futures. This includes strengthening ecologically and socially sustainable practices, while recognizing the physical limits of the earth. 
  • MIT Living Wage Calculator. Living wages by city or county and family size, plus typical expenses and typical wages by occupation.
  • The Union Busting Playbook. Each common union busting tactic developed by management consultants is described in detail.
  • The American Anti-Corruption Act. A draft legislative act for Congress to get money out of politics. Would stop legal bribery in the form of campaign donations, job offers, etc. Would also address campaign donations, lobbyist donations, secret money, and bundling. Creates a $100 tax rebate for each voter to make campaign donations if the done agrees to accept only donations under $500.
  • Alliance for American Manufacturing. The AAM is partnership with the United Steelworkers to strengthen American manufacturing and create new private-sector jobs through smart public policies. 
  • United Way Studies of Financial Hardship. “Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed” studies in 6 states represent the population of individuals and families who are working, but are unable to afford the basic necessities of housing, food, child care, health care, and transportation. Included are county-by-county and town-level data on the state of financial instability among households.
  • Howard Zinn Education Project. Drawing on Howard Zinn’s A Peoples History of the United States, the goal of this is to introduce students to a more accurate, complex, and engaging understanding of US history than is found in traditional textbooks and curricula. It offers more than 100 free, downloadable lessons and articles organized by theme, time period, and reading level.

Films on Current Issues of Inequality


  • Inequality for All” a feature length film from Robert Reich, 2013. As in Al Gore’s film “An Inconvenient Truth,” this award winning documentary is built around a lecture (or a series of lectures): Reich's incredibly popular “Wealth and Poverty” class at UC Berkeley. For each sub-topic in Reich’s exposition of widening income inequality, the film cuts to footage of real people and real lives, comments by other experts, and some great graphics that make the statistical evidence positively pop.
  • Inequality Films from Brave New Films by Robert Greenwald.  Has many very short, good films on youtube.
  • Media Education Foundation. This Debt and Consumerism Series has some excellent, though costly, films about the financial crash of 2008, debt, and globalized consumerism.
  • People Like Us - Social Class in America, 2013. PBS film illustrating on social class by scenes of the lives of people of different classes.
  • American Made Movie, 2013. Features several small businesses that have seen success despite the ever-expanding global economy (84 minutes).
  • The China Question, 2011. A trip through outsourcing to China and what it has done to US jobs.
  • Detropia, 2012. The story of the rise and fall of Detroit and the current attempt to reinvent itself.
  • Store Wars, 2001. When Walmart comes to a small Virginia town – sprawl and the destruction of home town business.


  • Distribution of Wealth. Explanation of what people want for distribution of wealth, what we think we have and what we really have (7 minutes).
  • Tax the Rich. An animation of how the rich took over the economy, media, and politics, to enrich themselves instead of contributing their fair share (8 minutes).
  • Hanauer on Job Creators. Nick Hanauer talk on why the consumers are the job creators (6 minutes).
  • Raising the Minimum Wage. What happens when we raise the minimum wage (2 minutes)
  • Stiglitz on Inequality. Joseph Stiglitz on inequality (16 minutes)
  • Wilkinson on Inequality. Richard Wilkinson’s talk explaining why inequality is harmful to everyone (17 minutes).


  • Origins of Money. Crash course on debt and money, including the origins of money in taxes and slavery (14 minutes)
  • Graeber on Debt David Graeber interviewed on debt and its role in current politics. (8 minutes)

  • Lessig on Election Financing.  Lawrence Lessig on the corruption of US politics (18 minutes)
  • Oliver on Wealth.  John Oliver on wealth inequality (14 minutes)
  • Regulatory Capture.  Regulatory capture (3 minutes)
  • Reich on the Race-to-the-Bottom.  Robert Reich on the race to the bottom (6 minutes)
  • Reich on the TPP. Robert Reich on Trans-Pacific Partnership, TPP, and why it’s a losing propositions for citizens (2 ½ minutes)
  • Engineered Inequality. A Bill Moyers TV show segment with Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, authors of Winner-Take-All Politics. (36 min)
  • Sacred Economics. A film on money and growth by Charles Eisenstein that illustrates his book (12 minutes).
  • Heinberg on Economic Growth An animation narrated by Richard Heinberg on the end of economic growth as we have known it (7 minutes) 
  • Turchin on History Video of Peter Turchin on a new science of history (16 minutes). 
  • Lind on US Economic History Michael Lind on the current mismatch between government regulation and the new economy in the light of previous cycles of US economic history (6 min)
  • Piketty Explained, including his TED talk (21 minutes). 



  • Farmer on Haiti. Paul Farmer shares his experience with Partners in Health in Haiti (3 ½ minutes)
  • Kim on Poverty. Jim Yong Kim, head of the World Bank, talks about eliminating poverty (10 ½ minutes)
  • Bono on Poverty. Bono talks about the end of poverty (13 minutes)
  • Gilbert on Happiness. Why are people happy?  (19 minutes)










Papers and Articles on Current Issues of Inequality


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