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Billionaires' Ball: Gluttony and Hubris…

Billionaires' Ball: Gluttony and Hubris in an Age of Epic Inequality

by Linda McQuaig

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I received this book through LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program, but, to be honest, I couldn't bring myself to finish it. What I did read was a combination of leftist claptrap and ad hominem, and it seemed clear that the little I might glean was not worth the pain of sifting through the propaganda. (Maybe someday when I have more time or a stronger stomach. Maybe not.) I will say, however, that at least endnotes are provided so that interested readers can follow up on some of the claims. ( )
  szarka | May 21, 2015 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
The authors summarize the evolution of U.S. Tax policy from the mid-1930s to 2011, paying particular attention to changes since 1971 when business interests, relatively dormant since 1933 or so, began re-asserting themselves. They describe the political strategies and policy changes that enabled current gross inequalities in wealth and income to arise, argue that those inequalities militate against both the political principles and the self-interest of most Americans, and offer 7 changes to tax policy to reduce the “epic inequalities” of their subtitle.

They mark their own position early (“The shower of money raining down on Wall Street is simply the massive cut of American profits being grabbed by rapacious financial middlemen”) and present their work clearly as a polemic, arguing in favor of using tax policy to move wealth from its current top-heavy distribution. Even so, the accumulate their arguments slowly and carefully, avoiding most arm-waving and sloganeering and the book is well-organized and easy to read despite rich and sometimes difficult content.

By focusing on tax policy and promoting uncommon arguments (that the accumulation of wealth depends on the whole social/political environment and so every inhabitant of that environment should get a cut via tax-based redistribution – for instance) McQuaig and Brooks contribute a very valuable voice to our long-running deliberations about what, if anything, ought to be done.

Oddly, the authors are both Canadian but use “American” throughout to refer to citizens of the United States. I suspect a heavy editorial hand. ( )
  steve.clason | May 20, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This book lays out the argument for reducing the current inequality of income in the United States. Those who agree will find many statistics to back up their point of view. Those who disagree will probably not read the book--thus we have the phenomenon known as "preaching to the choir."
While the book is good as far as it goes, it does not go far enough. The authors take the enormous fortunes of the last few decades at face value. Yet other writers on economics have pointed out that our paper wealth is partly imaginary in that the totals of currency and debt far exceed the actual material wealth of the entire planet. The idea that our economic downturn may be at least partly associated with actual or potential shortages of essential materials does not enter the authors' world view.
  ritaer | May 2, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
A well written overview of some of what is wrong with the economics system as it stands today. A lot of the information I was already familiar with, having read other popular economic books, but I found the book to be a good synthesis of the information available. While not containing much original insight, if you're looking for an introductory overview to the current economic woes, this book is not a bad place to start. ( )
  lakanta | Apr 25, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Billionaires’ Ball (Beacon Press, 2012) must have been written specifically to raise the ire of most of the 1%. Certainly, it provides enough talking points for Occupy Wall Street to keep their attention for a lot of long, lonely nights in those tents on capital malls. The co-authors, Canadians Linda McQuaig and Neil Brooks, write with a style and in a rhetorical mode that would make them outspoken guests for Rachel Maddow or the Ed Show or Chris Matthews’ Hardball. This should be apparent from the subtitle alone: Gluttony and Hubris in an Age of Epic Inequality. Or from any number of chapter titles: for example, “Why Pornography Is the Only True Free Market,” “Why Bill Gates Doesn’t Deserve His Fortune” (or anyone else, for that matter), “Why Billionaires Are Bad for Your Health” or “. . . for Democracy.” This list goes on.

Struggling to decide on two or three basic facts to emphasize in this review and to articulate a one-sentence statement of its purpose. I discovered that I couldn’t do better than the cover letter that came with my review copy:

• Between 1980 and 2008, the incomes of the bottom 90 percent of the population grew by a meager 1 percent, or an average of $303. Meanwhile, over those same years, the income of the top .01 percent of Americans grew by 403 percent, or an average of a $23.9 million.
• In 1955, the 400 richest Americans paid taxes that amounted to 51.2 percent of their total incomes. By 2007, the 400 richest Americans paid taxes that amounted to just 16.6 percent of their total incomes.
• Hedge fund manager John Paulsen, whose actions helped trigger the collapse of the global economy, received as much income in 2010 as 100,000 nurses.

In Billionaires’ Ball, [the authors] dissect how a rigged economic system created the super rich – and why it’s bad for the rest of us.

To whom might one recommend such a book?

Certainly, all voters should be required to read something with the hardcore information in this work. All taxpayers should be given a copy. All federal employees should be tested on its contents. We should demand that all candidates for federal office, for state legislatures and governorships, read something like this and post their responses publicly. Bankers and financiers should be required to acknowledge or dispute the facts alleged in this book and the inferences drawn from them. School boards should require that all graduates have courses in civics and economics, and that those courses include information from this book and analyze its conclusions.

Is it overstated? Does it misuse or abuse statistics? I’d like to hear how opponents’ deal with the charges of “gluttony” and “hubris” and “epic inequality.”

Important chapters in the book compare the economic history of the period preceding the Crash of 1929 with that preceding the recession of 2008. Perhaps the most sensible, yet most idealistic, chapter is the last one. It proposes several simple (and highly unlikely) solutions to the problem. For example: a tax on inherited wealth, which now “allow[s] individuals to become incredibly rich by doing nothing more than being born into the right family.” Restored to the levels of the 1950s and 1960s, this would produce a revenue of $75 billion as opposed to the $10 billion under the current system. This chapter, using an expression from Warren Buffett, is called “Revamping the Ovarian Lottery.”

The problem with the book, of course, is defining its readership and the relation of its tone/style to these readers. I fear that it will be ignored by people who disagree with its point of view, probably even labeled as a blatant example of deliberate class warfare. Independents may also maintain a distance, seeing such rhetoric as further evidence of the breakdown of bipartisanship and civility in politics. The facts are there. The statistics pile up. But will these persuade the unpersuaded? It will be up to others to use the information and restate it in a rhetoric that will be heard more widely.

After all, a writer for the Huffington Post did just win a Pulitzer Prize. Who knows? Maybe Liberalism will rise again. Compare Frank Rich’s recent NY Times feature, “Sugar Daddies: The Old, White, Rich Men Who Are Buying this Election.” (http://nymag.com/frank-rich/ ) If these voices are not heard – and heeded – relatively soon, corporate oligarchs will extend their reign. Chance of restoring genuine democracy -- or republicanism, if you will -- diminish every day; ( )
  bfrank | Apr 20, 2012 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0807003395, Hardcover)

The concentration of wealth today in such a small number of hands inevitably created a dynamic that led to freewheeling financial speculation—a dynamic that produced similarly disastrous results in the last great age of inequality, in the 1920s. Such concentrated economic power reverberates throughout society, threatening the quality of life and the very functioning of democracy. As McQuaig and Brooks illustrate, it's no accident that the United States claims the most billionaires but suffers from among the highest rates of infant mortality and crime, the shortest life expectancy, and the lowest rates of social mobility and electoral political participation in the developed world. 

In Billionaires' Ball, McQuaig and Brooks take us back in history to the political decisions that helped birth our billionaires, then move us forward to the cutting-edge research into the dangers that concentrated wealth poses. Via vivid profiles of billionaires—ranging from philanthropic capitalists such as Bill Gates to hedge fund king John Paulson and the infamous band of Koch brothers—Billionaires' Ball illustrates why we hold dearly to the belief that they "earned" and "deserve" their grand fortunes, when such wealth is really a by-product of a legal and economic infrastructure that's become deeply flawed.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:43 -0400)

"A society top-heavy with billionaires may seem like a paradise of upward mobility, but it actually more closely resembles a boneyard of broken dreams for all but a lucky few. Between 1980 and 2008, the incomes of the bottom 90 percent of Americans grew by a meager 1 percent compared to a whopping 403 percent for the top .01 percent. We tend to regard these large fortunes as proof of a meritocracy, yet there is no evidence that members of today's super-rich are any more talented or hardworking than were the elite of a generation ago. Via vivid profiles of billionaires-ranging from philanthropic capitalist Bill Gates and the infamous Koch brothers to brazen private equity baron Stephen Schwarzman-Billionaires' Ball debunks the notion that they "deserve" their grand fortunes, when such wealth is really a by-product of a legal and economic system that's become deeply flawed and is now threatening the quality of life and very functioning of our democracy."--publisher's website.… (more)

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