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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Feral Filthy Rich, 19 July 2013
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This review is from: The Trouble with Billionaires: How the Super-Rich Hijacked the World (and How we Can Take It Back) (Paperback)
Linda McQuaig and Neil Brooks's "The Trouble With Billionaires" is a superb analysis of the growing levels of inequality in the U.K. over the last thirty odd years. As the title suggests their focus is on the higher end of the income scale: the political decisions that have allowed a few to accumulate perverse levels of wealth, and the myths that have allowed this state of affairs to gain a degree of legitimacy in the public sphere.

Early chapters give an idea of the scale of the problem (Top 1% of UK earners share of total income rising from around 6% in the mid 1970's to over 15% by the time of the Credit Crunch), remind us that "free" markets are generally anything but, not least with regards to the question of executive pay where executives sit on one another's remuneration committees and discover that yes they are worth double digit salary increases year after year after year regardless of company performance.

The 3rd chapter, "Paying for a Civilised Society" takes a step sideways to look at tax and spending, providing statistical proof that there is no correlation between levels of taxation and economic growth thus demolishing the myths that increasing taxation on the rich will cause the economy to tank. And while there is no correlation, negative or positive, between taxation and economic growth the authors do assemble evidence to suggest that there is a correlation between higher taxes and increased equality, gender equality, economic security of workers, social well-being, and lower child mortality amongst other measures. And make the point that the lower tax narrative, whatever has been said at the rhetorical level, is essentially about reducing taxation on the rich.

Chapter 4: "Plutocracy, Climate Change and the Fate of the World" is the books weakest. The comparison pushed, that the CFC/Ozone problem was solved in less neo-liberal times while the Greenhouse gas/Global warming problem has been more or less stalled during the high tide of neo-liberalism doesn't really hold up: the interests holding up action on Global Warming (eg. Oil industry including oil producing countries, automobile industry, etc) are so much larger than the handful of chemical companies primarily involved in producing CFC's. A better approach might have been to tackle the influence of big money in the political process, using the example of Global Warming as one amongst many.

The 5th and 6th Chapters move on to demolishing the myths of the self-made billionaires, firmly situating their wealth accumulation in its social, economic and political context making the point that they are getting off relatively speaking scot-free with regard to returning something (tax) to the societies that there business empires have been built upon. Chapter 7 considers the question of motivation, and undermines the conventional wisdom that large sums of money are required to incentivise excellence whether in sport, business or public service.

Chapter 8: "John Maynard Keynes and the Defeat of Austerity" takes a look at the period of destructive interwar austerity and how Keynesian economics developed and provided a solid foundation for capitalisms post-war golden age, which included a significant lessening of inequality and some of the highest (if not the highest) rates of economic growth amongst mature industrial economies (and not incidentally was a period of relatively high growth for many developing countries). Chapter 9 focusses on the "Triumph of the Welfare State" in the early post war period (1945-1970's) as well as the forces (such as the perversely rich funders of the Institute of Economic Affairs in the UK, and more globally, the Mont Pelerin society) who staged the long fight back for the "liberal" economic ideas that took root in the 1970's and beyond. The book ends by looking at a number of policies that would reduce the grotesque inequalities that have arisen over the last thirty or so years.

McQuaig and Brooks have written an excellent book that achieves a number of worthwhile aims, not least the undermining of the low tax, low government spending nonsense propagated by the current coalition government, on the grounds that this self-serving belief claims as its own: economic efficiency. It also holds its own against other books about our current social-political-economic situation, such as Nicholas Shaxsons Treasure Islands: Tax Havens and the Men who Stole the World, Pickett & Wilkinsons The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone and Richard Brooks's The Great Tax Robbery, in providing the general reader with an accessible, interesting angle on the major issues facing us a society that the mainstream media has almost completely avoided. Well recommended.
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S Wood
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