Gains

by Don Boudreaux on April 11, 2016

in Books, Growth, History, Inequality

513oBH+8a7L._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Saturday’s mail brought a copy of Peter Lindert’s and Jeffrey Williamson’s new book, Unequal Gains: American Growth and Inequality since 1700.  I’ve not yet read as much as the first page, but I’m already eager to read the whole book.

But … but … I here register a cavil.  The main title irritates me.  If this book is about the economic growth of America over the past 300+ years, the title suggests that the dominant feature of that growth – the essential and most notable outcome of that growth – is that it has been unequal.  This title mistakenly suggests that the main story of America’s economy is inequality.

Yet for all of the many flaws and inequalities (and inequities and iniquities) of the American economy and of American economic policies since 1700, surely the fact that the monetary or material standards of living have never been, and continue not to be, ‘distributed’ equally is not the main story.  (And, by the way, what serious and economically informed person has ever, or would ever, believe that economic growth will be or even ought to be ‘equal’?)  Surely, instead, the main story of American economic growth is the unprecedented nature, speed, size, consistency, and widespread sharing of that growth even if that sharing always has been and remains “unequal.”

I suspect (although I don’t know for sure) that the title of this book is chosen less because of its descriptiveness of the book’s contents and more because it taps into our current obsession with inequality and tolerance of encouragement of envy.  I’ll learn when I read the book just how central a role is played in it by “inequality.”  I hope – and suspect – that I’ll discover that “inequality” isn’t the central, organizing theme that the title suggests it to be.  But I’ll see in time.

…..

A better title for a comprehensive survey of American economic growth would be simply Gains.

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