Bob Sutcliffe's graphs and charts are very interesting but his text has the limitation of becoming quickly dated with time. The book was published in 2001 and much of the data in his discussions and tables was derived from 1998 sources. Thus by 2008, when I read his book, the data was 10 years old. This is no fault of Sutcliffe, it is just that a book that is highly dependent on empirical evidence has the vulnerability of being quickly dated. However, in defense of the book, it should be pointed out that many of the trends he identifies are vast societal forces which move very slowly. In many cases 1998 data may be little different from 2008 data.
In the introduction, Sutcliffe has an interesting interpretation of the neo-liberal economic philosophies of Thatcher and Reagan. He explains that these 'invisible hand' economic philosophies do not attempt to address inequality and do not advocate inequality, but rather accept that inequalities will occur in a free market system and that shifts in market forces spread the inequalities within and between countries in the balance of relative advantage. The auto workers of Detroit experience a disadvantage but all US citizens get better deals of Japanese cars. However these displaced workers move to industries or production with higher yield and it is possible that in their new positions they create relative advantage over the workers in a similar field in another country who then experience the economic consequences. Thus inequalities are seen as temporary as societies and the workforce shifts efforts and resources when another country or group of workers takes their work away from them through the process of relative advantage. Sutcliffe's charts would indicate that this is not the case primarily because of unequal political power between countries and within countries. Sutcliffe indicates that the market is not free enough to match the vision of Reagan and Thatcher. Monopolies and political power will repeatedly disrupt the process. The economic philosophy of Adam Smith and Ricardo is mauled in the political and protectionist process. Sutcliffe points out that the neo-liberal economists lack methods for addressing the imperfections of the system and thus lack the ability to address inequalities. Thus they leave the issue alone saying that in the long run the invisible hand of the free market will make the corrections. Sutcliffe point out that these neo-liberals are most concerned when inequalities are addressed through redistribution. As he states "Any attempt to redivide the cake will make it shrink. The poor will be better off with a small slice of a large cake than a large slice of a small cake." Sutcliffe counters with "There is considerable evidence to support a diametrically opposed proposition; that it is the inequality of the slices into which the case is cut that restricts its size. Keynes supports such a concept to say that inequality in income distribution reduced the level of aggregate demand and so made the economy more vulnerable to slump and unemployment. Sutcliffe points out that inequality also entails enormous policing costs.
The charts, tables, and graphs that comprise the majority of the book are of great interest, showing relationships visually. The charts and graphs cover a vast range of topics including inequality of incomes within and between countries as well as life expectancy and health outcomes. The charts on food production and his comments are interesting in that the Western diet where 10 pounds of plant protein are needed to produce 1 pound of animal protein is a formula that is not sustainable or generalizable under any conditions. We waste considerable amounts of corn to produce fat beef. Trade between countries and international debt are also explored. It is amazing that some of the poorest countries are burdened with high interests payment that consume considerable amounts of their GDP. The loss of natural resources is certainly frightening with the tropical rain forests which clean the air of CO2, being destroyed at a quick rate. In some ways the book is pessimistic. What can we say about a world in which petroleum and petroleum products; arms; and illegal drugs constitute the three largest internationally exported products. Yet, knowing the situation is a first step in addressing a situation.