A Century of Wealth in America

Edward N. Wolff. Belknap, $39.95 (856p) ISBN 978-0-674-49514-2
Wolff (Top Heavy), an economics professor at New York University, will remind many of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century with this comprehensive and thorough study of the accumulation, distribution, and preservation of wealth in the United States. Wolff confirms the middle class’s increasingly precarious standing and the rise of income inequality. As to who the rich are in America, he shows that they are overwhelmingly white, married, highly educated, older, and self-employed, most likely in finance or business and professional services. And the remaining 99%? Their incomes have stagnated since the 1970s, despite the compensatory addition of many women to the workforce and huge increases in household debt levels—the latter, Wolff writes, just to maintain living standards, not to “binge” on consumption. Furthermore, as Wolff shows, members of the middle class are shut out of their share of the national pie: between 1983 and 2013, the richest 1% received 41% of the total growth in net worth; the richest 20% received 100%. Wolff doesn’t speculate about whether these trends anticipate a dystopian future, but he notes that even a direct tax on household wealth, as Switzerland has, would do little to alter income inequality. Wolff states the central narrative of this work to be the “rise and fall of the middle class” in America, and provides solid evidence to support this trend—and, even more disturbingly, no indication that it will end. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 10/16/2017
Release date: 10/01/2017
Genre: Nonfiction
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