From Top to Bottom
By Timothy Noah
Bloomsbury Press, $25.00, 263 pages
“To accept that some inequality is a fact of life in a capitalistic economy is not to accept that ever-greater inequality is either necessary or desirable.”
Journalist Timothy Noah begins his new book with a claim: “During the past thirty-three years, the difference in America between being rich and being middle-class became much more pronounced.” He ends with a warning: “The worst thing we can do to the Great Divergence is get used to it.” In between, he details, with exacting evidence, just how damaging the growing inequality, both economic and, as a consequence, political, has been to the current and future welfare of the republic.
As a writer for the left-leaning The New Republic, Noah could be expected to take a hard stand against this inequality. Yet his book examines how the divergence has rough consequences for all Americans, not just those being left behind. He makes a sharp, extended critique of policies that create private gain at the public’s expense. For the past generation, the levers of the machine – the economy, health care, education, law, and most drearily, politics – have been pulled in almost complete favor of those already succeeding. As a result, the machine stops working, even for these elite.
The Great Divergence reads quickly, is relatively non-partisan and holds up hopes for a brighter future. But only if we really pay attention to how different society has become.
Reviewed by Neil Liss