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The Great Divergence
Cover of The Great Divergence
The Great Divergence
America's Growing Inequality Crisis and What We Can Do about It
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For the past three decades, America has steadily become a nation of haves and have-nots. Our incomes are increasingly unequal. This steady growing apart is often mentioned as a troubling indicator by scholars and policy analysts, though seldom addressed by politicians. What economics Nobelist Paul Krugman terms "the Great Divergence" has till now been treated as little more than a talking point, a rhetorical club to be wielded in ideological battles. But this Great Divergence may be the most important change in this country during our lifetimes-a drastic, elemental change in the character of American society, and not at all for the better.

The inequality gap is much more than a left-right hot potato-its causes and consequences call for a patient, non-partisan exploration. Timothy Noah's The Great Divergence, based on his award-winning series of articles for Slate, surveys the roots of the wealth gap, drawing on the best thinking of contemporary economists and political scientists. Noah also explores potential solutions to the problem, and explores why the growing rich-poor divide has sparked remarkably little public anger, in contrast to social unrest that prevailed before the New Deal.

The Great Divergence is poised to be one of the most talked-about books of 2012, a jump-start to the national conversation about the shape of American society in the 21st century, and a work that will help frame the debate in a Presidential election year.

For the past three decades, America has steadily become a nation of haves and have-nots. Our incomes are increasingly unequal. This steady growing apart is often mentioned as a troubling indicator by scholars and policy analysts, though seldom addressed by politicians. What economics Nobelist Paul Krugman terms "the Great Divergence" has till now been treated as little more than a talking point, a rhetorical club to be wielded in ideological battles. But this Great Divergence may be the most important change in this country during our lifetimes-a drastic, elemental change in the character of American society, and not at all for the better.

The inequality gap is much more than a left-right hot potato-its causes and consequences call for a patient, non-partisan exploration. Timothy Noah's The Great Divergence, based on his award-winning series of articles for Slate, surveys the roots of the wealth gap, drawing on the best thinking of contemporary economists and political scientists. Noah also explores potential solutions to the problem, and explores why the growing rich-poor divide has sparked remarkably little public anger, in contrast to social unrest that prevailed before the New Deal.

The Great Divergence is poised to be one of the most talked-about books of 2012, a jump-start to the national conversation about the shape of American society in the 21st century, and a work that will help frame the debate in a Presidential election year.

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About the Author-
  • Timothy Noah was recently named "TRB," the lead columnist at The New Republic. He wrote for Slate for a dozen years, and previously served at the Wall Street Journal, the New Republic, and the Washington Monthly. He edited two collections of the writings of his late wife, Marjorie Williams, including the New York Times bestseller The Woman at the Washington Zoo. Noah received the 2011 Hillman Prize, the highest award for public service magazine journalism, for the series in Slate that forms the basis of The Great Divergence.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from February 27, 2012
    In this comprehensive, fair-minded, and lucid account, based on his award-winning articles for Slate, New Republic columnist Noah examines growing income inequality in the U.S., where for 33 years, the wealthy have acquired a growing share of the nation’s income while the middle class saw its share shrink. Noah synthesizes work by economists, sociologists, and political scientists to explain the phenomenon to nonexperts. He shows how income inequality first came to be measured in the early 20th century, and relates the perspectives of scholars and politicians at a time when the share of the nation’s income going to the wealthy either shrank or remained stable during the 1930s through the late 1970s, before powerfully reversing course in the 1980s. Noah studies the contributing factors (immigration, the shortage of better-educated workers, trade with low-wage nations, globalization, the fall of the labor movement, and government policy), and considers the vast changes in the corporate and financial industry that led to a “grossly misshapen” wage structure, where a CEO now makes 262 times more than the average worker. While this affects many industrialized democracies, income inequality is far greater in the U.S., resulting in a less upwardly mobile society. Noah makes a convincing and passionate case for why rising inequality harms a working democracy, and suggests sensible, though not always politically viable, solutions. Agent: Andrew Wylie, the Wylie Agency.

  • Kirkus

    February 15, 2012
    In his debut, New Republic columnist Noah takes on the political dimensions of the outrageous disparity in incomes that has developed since 1979. This inequality, writes the author, is worse than it has been in any other period of American history, and it is completely out of line with America's trading partners and allies. Noah shows that this trend is not directly related to the usual political suspects--black-white disparity, the treatment of women, etc.--and their correlatives in the economy and employment, but is in a class by itself, a result of contextual developments broader than particular laws or taxes enacted by Congress. The author examines the research of Princeton and Vanderbilt public policy professor Larry Bartels, whose message in his 2008 book Unequal Democracy "boiled down to a bluntly partisan message. You don't like income inequality? Then don't vote Republican." Noah discusses the rise and fall of the trade-union movement and demonstrates that turning points in that movement were also turning points in the growth of income inequality. While after the end of World War II it was normal for the president to sit down with labor and business officials to discuss the economy, it no longer is. The author indicates that when anti-labor legislation (e.g., the Taft-Hartley Act) was combined with corporate lobbying, the institutions underpinning ideas of what was acceptable where income was concerned were undermined. Noah also calls out financial deregulation as a major offender, and he lists measures that he believes can help the situation, such as soaking the rich (think higher taxes and fees for wealthy individuals), fattening government payrolls and attracting more skilled immigrants. Essential background reading for the coming elections.

    COPYRIGHT(2012) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    April 15, 2012

    As a result of the Occupy Wall Street movement, the reality of income inequality in America is gaining popular attention. Currently the top one percent of Americans collect almost 20 percent of the nation's income, double the percentage from 30 years ago. Analyzing long-term economic trends, Noah (lead columnist, New Republic) delves into the history and causes of income inequality. Based on a series of articles he wrote for Slate ("The United States of Inequality"), his book examines "the great divergence" between rich and poor and its effect on the middle class over the past several decades. He investigates possible sources of growing inequality, including education, computer access, globalization, immigration laws, the labor movement, and the evolution of the financial sector. Along the way, he pokes holes in popular mindsets, like Americans' enduring but misplaced confidence in upward mobility for all. VERDICT Noah successfully explains complex economic trends in common parlance. In this presidential election year, his book provides an excellent introduction to the hot topic of income inequality. Recommended for the 99 percent and anyone else concerned with the future of America's middle class.--Rebekah Wallin, Paris

    Copyright 2012 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist

    April 15, 2012
    How did the U.S.' relatively egalitarian income distribution from the 1930s to the '70s become one in which 93 percent of 2010 income gains went to the top 1 percent? Is this change a serious problem? If so, what canor shouldbe done about it? In a series of Slate columns that won the 2011 Hillman Prize for public-service magazine journalism, Noah tackled these issues. His book based on those columns lays out the dimensions of this shift and its impact on Americans' faith in upward mobility. He explores conventional explanations, including racial and gender discrimination, social and cultural change, immigration, the college premium, outsourcing, government actions, substitution of retail and service jobs for manufacturing work, and the rise of the stinking rich. Noah devotes a chapter to the arguments of those who view ever-increasing inequality as nonexistent or inevitable or even desirable, but the veteran journalist is convinced this change profoundly challenges U.S. democracy. Noah's final chapter proposes eight aggressive steps that would begin to reverse the troubling trends he's depicted so vividly.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2012, American Library Association.)

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The Great Divergence
The Great Divergence
America's Growing Inequality Crisis and What We Can Do about It
Timothy Noah
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