Do We Need Economic Inequality? by Danny Dorling

The Blurb On The Back:

Although economic inequality provokes widespread disquiet, its supposed necessity is rarely questioned.  At best, a basic level of inequality is seen as a necessary evil.  At worst, it is seen as insufficient to encourage aspiration, hard work and investment – a refrain sometimes used to advocate ever greater inequality.

In this original new book, Danny Dorling critically analyses historical trends and contemporary assumptions in order to question the idea that inequality is an inevitability.  What if, he asks, widespread economic inequality is actually just a passing phase, a feature of the capitalist transition from a settled rural way of life to our next highly urban steady-state?  Is it really likely that we face a Blade Runner-style dystopian future divided between a tiny elite and an impoverished mass?

Dorling shows how, amongst much else, a stabilizing population, changing gender relations and rising access to education make a more egalitarian alternative to this nightmare vision not only preferable, but realistic. This bold contribution to one of the most significant debates of our time will be essential reading for anyone interested in our economic, social and political destiny. 

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

Danny Dorling is Professor of Geography at Oxford University and in this interesting but slightly depressing book he looks at the concept of economic inequality, the way it’s grown over the course of history, the arguments made for and against it and how it encourages bad decision making together with what Dorling considers to be signs for optimism (although I have to say that I didn’t share them).

Dorling writes in a fluent and easy to understand manner and there are plenty of charts and graphs to illustrate his arguments.  He makes some interesting arguments about intergenerational mobility and how this is hampered by inheritance and his chapters on who benefits from inequality and where the costs of inequality fall are blistering in both how they damn the economic elite and the emotional and economic suffering it causes to those lower down in the economic pecking order.  Also good are the sections where Dorling explains how the elite persuade the rest of society to act against their own interests by blaming other groups (notably migrants) and play down the scope to which society as a whole has seen an improvement in living standards.

The scope of the book is broad with Dorling touching on statistics from numerous countries (albeit the particular focus is on western democracies) and the commentary goes up to 2017, taking into account the proposals made by Trump’s administration and showing the probable results if those policies were implemented.

However, while Dorling asserts that economic inequality cannot continue indefinitely and that a shock such as that suffered in the 1920s and 1930s can create a correction to the situation, narrowing the gap in inequality, I think that this downplays the disproportionate burden that such a catastrophe would cause for the disadvantaged.  Also while I agree with him that there is more awareness about economic inequality and greater calls for disparity to be ended, I don’t think Dorling provided enough evidence to suggest that there is a momentum building to affect real change and the current political climate is such that I am not convinced there will be a backlash against the economic elite’s interests sufficient to reduce their power.

Ultimately though, I think that this is an interesting read that will appeal to anyone interested in the subject.

 

Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

One thought on “Do We Need Economic Inequality? by Danny Dorling

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