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Inequality: What Can Be Done?

3.82  ·  Rating details ·  455 ratings  ·  58 reviews
Winner of the Richard A. Lester Award for the Outstanding Book in Industrial Relations and Labor Economics, Princeton University
An Economist Best Economics and Business Book of the Year
A Financial Times Best Economics Book of the Year

Inequality is one of our most urgent social problems. Curbed in the decades after World War II, it has recently returned with a vengeance. We
Hardcover, 400 pages
Published May 11th 2015 by Harvard University Press (first published May 1st 2015)
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Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin
For once a book that doesn't merely call for education and child care to alleviate inequality but a book that concentrates on good old redistribution through taxation, minimum wage laws, expanding the social safety net, and making it much easier to form a union. A book with a real plan that would actually make life better for the 99% the policies could be put in place tomorrow except for one pesky detail. The one percent own the political system and it won't be done unless they are under serious ...more
Inequality: What can be done? by Anthony B. Atkinson, is a fascinating book that examines basic policy prescriptions to reduce inequality levels and improve close the wage distribution gap that many nations currently feature. Atkinson begins the book by examining inequality levels over the past century, using primarily data from the US and UK as a comparison, but also looking globally when needed to make his statistics more authoritative. He finds that income inequality has a U shaped curve - in ...more
Apr 29, 2015 rated it liked it
By Edward Hadas

Income inequality is a hot economic and political topic. But Anthony Atkinson, an academic at Oxford, was into it long before it became trendy. He published his first paper on the topic in 1970. Since then he has collected a knighthood and 19 honorary degrees, earned for a distinctive combination of ethical, statistical and practical analysis. His latest book – “Inequality: What can be done?” – is mostly practical.

Atkinson does not hide his bias in favour of greater equality. The
Jan 29, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: economics
- The direction of technological change is not exogenous.
- Baumol effect: William J. Baumol argued that productivity grows faster in certain sectors than others, and that in some sectors there is no scope for producing more output per person…particularly [in] in the public sector, where slower productivity growth has been taken to imply that the relative cost of public services rises over time…as we get richer, we also attach more value to public services.
-Wage premium: excess of the skilled w
Dec 12, 2018 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: People interested in economic policy
Recommended to James by: Andrew
Shelves: non-fiction
While at heart a good book, its written in that academic purple prose style that made Capital in the Twenty-First Century such a slog. I suppose this must be expected of any economics text, I have read very few that aren't heavily padded. It looses a star for writing style.

At the heart of this book is Atkinson's 15 proposals designed to reverse this rising inequality that started in the early 80's.

Let's look at Proposal 6: There should be a capital endowment (minimum inheritance) paid to all at
Jason Furman
May 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: economics, nonfiction
Anthony Atkinson was one of the pioneers of research into inequality beginning in the 1960s, one of the original people to put together comprehensive estimates of income shares based on administrative tax data, and a lifelong contributor to both economics and public policy. So it is no surprise that his summary of a lifetime of thought and engagement in the new book Inequality is comprehensive, wise, but does not contain much that is very original--if only because much of Atkinson's original con ...more
Oct 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
Atkinson has contributed an important book that adds a lot to the discussion on the issues raised in Piketty's Capital in the 21st Century. Taking as given the notion that one would like to redistribute wealth and income more equally, he takes up the question of how to go about it.

The point of view is an eye-opener for someone used to American political discourse: neither "redistribution" nor "welfare state" seem to carry any pejorative connotation. While the discussion is often specific to the
Billie Pritchett
Oct 22, 2015 rated it really liked it
Anthony Atkinson's Inequality is a dense book probably aimed at people who are much smarter than I am. But it's nonetheless easy to grasp the basic ideas. Atkinson talks about the extreme degree in which the developed world faces income inequality and practical ways to rectify that inequality. Essentially, what he thinks is that the problem requires a patchwork of solutions or a package of policies that all have to be implemented in concert with one another. For example, one decent thing that co ...more
Aug 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: economics
If there is anyone who has the credibility to hold forth on both the plague of inequality as well as its obliteration, it is Anthony Atkinson. Having dedicated a significant part of his career to the cause and consequence of inequality, Anthony Atkinson is a treasure trove of ideas, suggestions, measures and recommendations. He puts all these valuable attributes to splendid effect in "Inequality: What Can Be Done?".

Beginning by providing an overview of the pernicious problem that is inequality,
Sagheer Afzal
Jul 29, 2015 rated it really liked it
I would have given this book five stars but for a glaring omision. Professor Atkinson very clearly gives his reasons for income equality in the UK and makes cogent proposals for alleviating the inequality. But he has totally neglected to mention the role of banks in helping create income equality. Especially the way banks pump excessive credit to household and inflate unsustainable bubbles in housing and other assets.

Other than that; it is a very comprehensive book with solid proposal to reduce
Apr 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Wow! This book is an intellectual tour de force. The author covers a vast amount of ground in amazing detail. I like the author's proposal for eradicate inequality. They are more realistic, I think, than Picketty's prescription of a global wealth tax and could be achieved if governments are willing and able.
Jul 27, 2017 rated it did not like it
Overall just a little too academic and "ivory tower"-ish for my taste. I'd have liked to have seen more analysis on the effects the proposals would have and rather less on the rationale for each proposal.
Thomas Kouroughli
Jan 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: inequality
Takes the topic further by introducing tangible proposals to tackle the problem of inequality. Anyone interested in the subject matter or interested in policy in general should study this.
Sami Eerola
Jan 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2019
Good academic book on economics and not so hard to read, but difficult to understand. For a layman like me this book has very complicated tax schemes and so forth. Still the book is divided in chapters and sub chapters and at the end of each chapter there is a summary. So there are many chances to trying to understand what the writer is trying to explain. The most interesting part was the beginning of the book, where the writer explains how inequality is measured and why it is now worst than in ...more
Jim Manis
Sep 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: economics
Atkinson is a British academic who has co-authored some works with the French economist Thomas Piketty. "Inequality," published in 2015, before the fiasco that has currently overtaken the U.S. and the idiocy of Brexit, offers a number of possible steps that could be taken to limit the economic inequality that exists in western European countries and the U.S.

The one problem that I have with the book is that Atkinson doesn't explicit illustrate the economic problem with widening inequality. We re
Rodrigo Leão
Nov 21, 2018 rated it it was ok
The book brings light to a very important issue in the modern economy: the inequality and the problems that it creates to the society.

Even though the idea is interesting, there are many flaws in the proposals solutions, such as:
- Look for equality in results doesn't consider the motivations of the human beens;
- An annual income tax at 65% would make people avoid keep savings. They would earn the money and spend it all.

I could list many propositions and its flaws, so I think it is easier to say t
Steven Willmott
Jun 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: society
This is a very valuable deep dive into the social impact of inequality and what might be done about it. There are plenty of solutions proposed which are interesting to think about. Sadly they are almost all policy / political in nature and it seems unlikely that many of them are going to be adopted in the current climate.

That doesn't make them invalid (though I'm not sure they are all as sound as each other), but they aren't likely to be accessible as near-term solutions for many nations.
Oct 16, 2019 rated it liked it
I read half of the book and I don't feel like finishing it. The book is in three parts: 1) explain the situation, 2) propose solutions, 3) are the solution feasible/affordable. The first part is a nice introduction to the subject. I learned some things. Mostly focuses on US&UK case, I felt. I don't think that'd be so different from what you'd find in any other book on the subject. The very nice thing about part 2 is that the 15 proposals the author make in 2 pages. ...more
Jul 03, 2020 rated it liked it
Tough, dry read for me, but a detailed, scholarly overview of the economics of inequality, along with some specific proposals for recalibrating the dance between private capital, collective bargaining, taxation and policy. Three stars because I learned more from Robert Reich's Saving Capitalism--a much friendlier and updated rehash of Atkinson's more academic progressive plan. Call me a lightweight.
Jun 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: economy
The book feels too heavy for non-economists and somewhat shallow for true specialist . But I appreciate the solid research, and the instrumental and intrinsic reasons against inequality. Also it's sad to see how the Western world (UK & US) moving in opposite direction as the book suggests. Unlike the author, I'm pessimistic about the situation. ...more
Vicente Plata
Mar 25, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It is a very interesting book. It develops its thoughts in a very well organized way. Very clear! However, the last chapters work only the British case, and thus are less important for the non British readers. Nevertheless, I highly reccomend this book for those interested on the topic.
Marc Robinson
Jun 29, 2020 rated it liked it
A useful book written by one of the great specialists in this area.
It has to be said, however, that it is pretty thin in terms of link with the research literature or statistics -- but that is perhaps an ungenerous comment to make for the work of a master written not long before his death.
Jun 21, 2017 rated it it was ok
The proposed (mostly taxation schemes) interventions are so complicated as to be absurdly impractical. There is otherwise a good bit of provocative content.
Keith Wheeles
Apr 23, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent analysis. More nuanced than Piketty (Capital in the 21st Century), with a broad and well-supported set of policy recommendations. Primarily UK/US analysis.
Dec 03, 2019 rated it liked it
I think this was an intelligent book but I lacked the comprehension skills to grasp all it was saying. It was very information dense and I found it quite difficult to digest.
Mar 07, 2017 rated it it was ok
Atkinson gives some concrete ideas about things that have to be done, but I am not completely convinced and there are issues I wish he'd addressed more, like global inequality. Would have been better with a bit more math, and the economic theories he uses explained more. Overall a bit dry.
John  Mihelic
Nov 14, 2015 rated it really liked it
Inequality is bad.

Wait, not the book, but the fact that some have much more than others and that it is truly impossible to justify that in terms of hard work - whatever that means.

Inequality has been the elephant in the room that was ignored for so long until Piketty blew up for some reason last year. It's weird how that happens in the culture. I bought Piketty’s book Capital on pre-order and only got about 100 pages in,. By the time I actually got the book, I had read so many blogs going back
Apr 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
This is a very good book but a talented and sound economist of the subject of present-day trends in inequality. It is both diagnostic and prescriptive. Atkinson writes with great clarity. Discussions of survey techniques and the sources of data, their strengths and weaknesses, which you would think would make your eyes glaze over, are downright interesting, at least to me.
There is no single source from which present day inequality trends flow. That makes sense.
And there is no single solution, no
Chelsea Lawson
Jun 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Great book with excellent proposals and research to back them up. Part 2 is the crux of the book.. If you already think the current level of inequality in the US and UK is a problem than you can pretty much skip Part 1 but I liked the graphs and history of distributive justice with quotes from pioneers like Rawls. Part 3 gets detailed into creating cost benefit analyses to show that many proposals could be budget neutral (like switching from an earned income tax CREDIT to an earned income tax DI ...more
Sep 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: economics-etc
This follow-up to Piketty's magnum opus is definitely worth a read. Beware: this is not an easy book. If you're not trained in economics, I would suggest never straying away too far from an internet connection: it's nice to be able to look up things like Stolper-Samuelson or optimal taxation theory while reading. The book is clearly targeted at British readers, and that can complicate things even more for continental readers like myself.

Still, this is a book every left-wing policy wonk should re
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