(CC) Books worth wrestling with

Several recent books by leading economists have critiqued the capitalist worldview and its structures as inherently flawed. Branko Milanovic’s Capitalism, Alone: The Future of the System That Rules the World, offers a slightly different take: it’s complicated. While capitalism needs major corrective measures, he argues, it is the only viable option. He brilliantly frames structural deficiencies and articulates goals, but many of his proposed measures fall short.

Milanovic traces the emergence of capitalism as the globally dominant socioeconomic system and distinguishes a Western form of capitalism—“liberal meritocratic capitalism”—from the “poli­tical capitalism” prevalent in au­thori­tarian regimes. He attributes growing inequality in countries like the US to a concentration of wealth at the top, higher dividends on wealth, and marriage patterns. Milanovic posits “people’s capitalism” as an alternative that can grant everyone an equal share of income.

It’s a noble idea, but how do we accomplish it? Some of Milanovic’s suggestions, like tax breaks for the lower and middle classes or more investment in public schools, might help. But he pays insufficient attention to the massive wage gap, the lack of guaranteed universal income, and the way factors like race and gender accentuate meritocratic capitalism. He suggests incremental shifts that would keep poor people alive but without leading to major structural changes.

Read it all and see what you make of the book choices also.


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