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As debate rages over the widening and destructive gap between the rich and the rest of Americans, Claude Fischer and his colleagues present a comprehensive new treatment of inequality in America. They challenge arguments that expanding inequality is the natural, perhaps necessary, accompaniment of economic growth. They refute the claims of the incendiary bestseller The Bell Curve (1994) through a clear, rigorous re-analysis of the very data its authors, Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray, used to contend that inherited differences in intelligence explain inequality. Inequality by Design offers a powerful alternative explanation, stressing that economic fortune depends more on social circumstances than on IQ, which is itself a product of society. More critical yet, patterns of inequality must be explained by looking beyond the attributes of individuals to the structure of society. Social policies set the "rules of the game" within which individual abilities and efforts matter. And recent policies have, on the whole, widened the gap between the rich and the rest of Americans since the 1970s.
Not only does the wealth of individuals' parents shape their chances for a good life, so do national policies ranging from labor laws to investments in education to tax deductions. The authors explore the ways that America--the most economically unequal society in the industrialized world--unevenly distributes rewards through regulation of the market, taxes, and government spending. It attacks the myth that inequality fosters economic growth, that reducing economic inequality requires enormous welfare expenditures, and that there is little we can do to alter the extent of inequality. It also attacks the injurious myth of innate racial inequality, presenting powerful evidence that racial differences in achievement are the consequences, not the causes, of social inequality. By refusing to blame inequality on an unchangeable human nature and an inexorable market--an excuse that leads to resignation and passivity--Inequality by Design shows how we can advance policies that widen opportunity for all.
"Inequality by Design's most important findings describe an America deeply stratified by class, an America in which equal opportunity remains only and idle dream...[It] may well after the public discussion...with a shot across the bow of the nation's policymakers."--Lingua Franca
". . . calmly but devastatingly refutes the view that IQ is the inexorable force behind growing inequality in American society. [This] message deserves wide airing, lest voters and policy makers believe the fatalistic--and false--message that our destiny lies in our genes. . . . The fact that IQ isn't destiny means Americans can't wash their hands of poverty and related social problems by imagining them to be timeless and unchangeable."--Jonathan Marshall, San Francisco Chronicle
"A clear and persuasive counter argument to the conclusions of Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein in The Bell Curve. . . . The authors urge that Americans not scapegoat race but look critically at policy and at a design for society to narrow the gaps between the least and most encouraged in our country."--Library Journal
Posted May 18, 2003
If you run a search for 'The Bell Curve' on Barnes and Noble you'll find more than a dozen titles listed.One is the 1994 bestseller by Hernnstein and Murray,but all the rest are critiques.It was a controversial book.By adding intelligence to their social analysis the authors found that people with high intelligence are more successful than those with low intelligence, and that low intelligence is a better predictor of poverty than parental socioeconomic status is.In other words,nature matters more than nurturing does. The six co-authors of Inequality by Design don't like this conclusion at all.They believe instead 'that social environment is more important in helping determine which American becomes poor than is 'native intelligence''.To prove this they do two things.First they raise doubts about intelligence,as Hernnstein and Murray think of it,by saying that it means different things to different people;that it can be changed;and that,whatever it is,it isn't measured by the AFQT test that Hernnstein and Murray rely on.Then they add variables to socioeconomic status to make that predict more than intelligence.The ground is thus prepared for the second half of the book,which covers the authors' solution to inequality:more government programs. Inequality by Design is a useful critique,though not as compelling as it seems to be at first read.In fact many of its criticisms ignore answers already given in the Bell Curve.For instance,to show that intelligence isn't genetically fixed,the authors cite a study that shows that intelligence levels have risen across generations.The implication is that ethnic differences in intelligence, which are mainly hereditary according to The Bell Curve,may disappear in the future.But The Bell Curve covered the same study and accepted that ethnic differences aren't etched in stone.They also pointed out that,even if intelligence levels have risen between generations, ethnic differences remain within generations. Similarly,when the authors argue for an alternative version of intelligence called information processing they don't mention what The Bell Curve said about it.Information processing was discussed in The Bell Curve but wasn't used because their concern was with aggregate social and economic outcomes,not the development of cognitive processes.There's a sense that Inequality by Design knocks down straw men of its own creation. When Inequality by Design puts forward its expanded version of socioeconomic status and compares its predictive value to that of intelligence in The Bell Curve a strange thing happens. Whereas in an early chapter those with an IQ 2 standard deviations below the mean have a 28 percent probability of being poor,by chapter 4 this has inexplicably fallen to 15 percent, thus allowing the authors to declare that 'formal schooling and childhood environment are each more important than AFQT score in predicting the risks of poverty'.Both predict a 21 percent chance of being poor:greater than 15 percent but less than 28 percent.What seems to be an effective critique of The Bell Curve therefore turns on a contrivance,or sleight-of-hand.There is less to this book than meets the eye.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 8, 2011
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