GFB Update

A monthly newsletter on the vast and underappreciated world of current affairs books


Michael Marien, Director

1:11, November 2011

In This Issue
Book of the Month: A Grand and Engaging Tour of Energy Trends and Futures
Rising Inequality: 20 Best Books
Global Inequality
United States Inequality
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Book of the Month
A Grand and Engaging Tour of Energy Trends and Futures

The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern WorldDaniel Yergin (Chairman, HIS Cambridge Energy Research Associates).

NY: The Penguin Press, Sept 2011, 804p, $37.95.


Energy is seen as an engine of global political and economic change.  The global appetite for energy in coming decades will grow enormously--30-40% greater in 2030 than today--a quest that is truly reshaping our world.  This lengthy and wide-ranging volume by the highly-regarded author of The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power (1992), which won a Pulitzer Prize, describes the new world of oil production and rising demand, new technology to reach unconventional oil and natural gas, the growth of electricity usage as the underpinning of modern civilization, the rise of carbon in the atmosphere and growing concern about climate change, energy efficiency and renewable sources, biofuels, and the "great revolution" involved in the new energy mix.


The 804 pages may appear daunting, but the narrative is very readable, with 1-2 page chapter sub-sections, numerous anecdotes (perhaps too many), interesting data, and many judicious forecasts.  Most noteworthy is the long section deflating "peakist" fears about imminent decline of oil supply: "the world is clearly not running out of oil," especially when new unconventional sources are considered.  Moreover, the unanticipated arrival of huge amounts of unconventional natural gas enabled by hydrofracking--for better and worse--"portends low prices and abundant supplies for many decades or even a century or more."  Shale gas has transformed the US natural gas market, and is likely to do so worldwide.   Despite a long-term transition to renewables, hydrocarbons will still likely be 75-80% of overall global energy consumption by 2030; after 2030, "the energy system could start to look quite different." 

Rising Inequality
20 Best Books

The Occupy Wall Street movement, which has sparked demonstrations in hundreds of cities worldwide, is a generalized protest about many perceived injustices.   Perhaps more than any other single word, "inequality" might best describe what the protests are about, as expressed by the many signs contrasting the "99%" with the "1%" of the very rich.

Many scholars have noted rising inequality in recent years, both within and between nations.  The literature on inequality is not huge, contrasted to recent books on climate change and the Great Recession, but there are some excellent recent books that portend the complaints now being widely expressed in public--complaints that are doubtlessly aggravated by the financial recklessness of the "1%" symbolized by Wall Street. 

Global Inequality

Atlas-Global-InequalitiesThe best quick overview of inequality is 

The Atlas of Global Inequalities by Ben Crow and Suresh K. Lodha of the U of California at Santa Cruz (U of California Press, Feb 2011, 128p), which portrays differences between and within countries with maps, charts, and brief overview discussion in seven categories: economic inequalities, power inequalities, social inequalities, inequalities of access, health, education, and environment; a final section describes national and international action to promote greater equality. Historical perspective is provided by World Bank economist Branko Milanovic in The Haves and the Have-Nots: A Brief and Ideosyncratic History of Inequality around the Globe (Basic Books, Dec 2010, 256p), discussing how to think about inequality through the ages, why it matters, and what can be done about it. Unveiling Inequality: A World-Historical Perspective, by sociologists Roberto Patricio Korzeniewicz of U of Maryland and Timothy Patrick Moran of SUNY-Stony Brook (Russell Sage Foundation, Dec 2009) explains why some areas of the world are prosperous and some poor, and some are fairly equal and others very unequal.


Human Development Report 2011: Sustainability and Equity--Challenges for Human Development (United Nations Publications, Nov 2011, 180p), the latest annual report from the UN Development Programme, assesses the urgent global challenge of sustainable development and its relationship to rising inequality within and among countries, as well as long-term inequality trends at national and global level.  Combating Poverty and Inequality: Structural Change, Social Policy and Politics (UN Publications, Sept 2010, 350p), from the UN Research Institute for Social Development, explains why people are poor and inequalities exist, and what can be done to rectify these injustices. The Birthright Lottery: Citizenship and Global Inequality, by U of Toronto law professor Ayelet Shachar (Harvard U Press, April 2009, 254p) argues that membership in a given state provides opportunity for some and a life of little hope for others, and that nations should expand their membership boundaries beyond outdated notions of blood-and-soil.


Environmental-InequalitiesEnvironment Inequalities Beyond Borders: Local Perspectives on Global Injustices, edited by JoAnn Carmin of MIT and Julian Agyeman of Tufts U (MIT Press, April 2011, 296p) notes that developed countries routinely dump hazardous materials and produce greenhouse gas emissions that have a disproportionate impact on developing countries. Global Gender Issues in the New Millennium by V. Spike Peterson and U of Arizona and Anne Sisson Runyan of U of Cincinnati (Westview Press, third edition, July 2009, 320p) connects the inequalities between and among women and men with the world politics of power, security economics, and ecology.

United States Inequality

Inequality-ReaderPerhaps the best overview is The Inequality Reader: Contemporary and Foundational Readings in Race, Class, and Gender (Westview Press, second edition, Jan 2011, 704p), edited by David B. Grusky of Stanford U and Szonja Szelenyi, which claims to be "The one-stop compendium of all the must-read pieces."  In the realm of politics, Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age by Larry M. Bartels of Princeton U (Princeton U Press, April 2010, 344p) focuses on the growing US income gap that shows the failure of the political system to live up to its ideals.  Machiavellian Democracy, by U of Chicago political scientist John P. McCormick (Cambridge U Press, Feb 2011, 264p), argues that intensifying economic and political inequality poses a threat to the liberty of democratic citizens, in that economic power determines public policy, not popular will.  Supporting this view, Class War? What Americans Really Think about Economic Inequality, by Benjamin I. Page of Northwestern U and Lawrence R. Jacobs of U of Minnesota (U of Chicago Press, April 2009, 144p) cites hundreds of opinion studies finding that a majority supports higher minimum wages, wider access to universal health insurance, and improved public education.  Good Jobs, Bad Jobs: The Rise of Polarized and Precarious Employment Systems in the United States, 1970s to 2000s by Arne L. Kalleberg of the U of North Carolina (Russell Sage Foundation, July 2011) accounts for the disappearance of postwar prosperity, along with the weakening of unions and the minimum wage.  Taxing the Poor: Doing Damage to the Truly Disadvantaged (U of California Press, Feb 2011, 270p), by Katherine S. Newman of Johns Hopkins U and Rourke L. O'Brien of the New America Foundation, shows how regressive sales and income taxes, especially in the American South, punish the poor and exacerbate the conditions that drive them into poverty.
Whither-OpportunitySocial Class and Changing Families in an Unequal America (Stanford U Press, July 2011, 304p), edited by Marcia J. Carlson of the U of Wisconsin and Paula England of Stanford U, assesses the condition of the American family in an era of growing inequality, showing that changes in family life play out in very different ways for the wealthy than they do for the poor.  Whither Opportunity?  Rising Inequality, Schools, and Children's Life Chances (Russell Sage Foundation, Sept 2011, 528p), edited by Greg J. Duncan of UC-Irvine and Richard J. Murname of Harvard U, shows the corrosive effects of unequal family resources, poor neighborhoods, insecure labor markets, and worsening K-12 school conditions.  Just Schools: Pursuing Equality in Societies of Difference (Russell Sage Foundation, Nov 2010, 312p), edited by Martha Minow of Harvard U, Richard A. Shweder of U of Chicago, and Hazel Rose Markus of Stanford U, explores the possibilities and limits of equal education today. Degrees of Inequality: Culture, Class, and Gender in American Higher Education by Ann L. Mullen of the U of Toronto (Johns Hopkins U Press, Jan 2011, 256p) contrasts the experience of students at Yale and at nearby Southern Connecticut State U, arguing that higher education reinforces the same inequalities that it seeks to transcend.  The Colors of Poverty: Why Racial and Ethnic Disparities Persist (Russell Sage Foundation, Sept 2010, 344p), edited by Ann Chih Lin of U of Michigan and David R. Harris of Cornell U, considers the many factors that contribute to widening racial gaps, such as education, discrimination, social capital, immigration, incarceration, and growing public tolerance for disparity and inequality.

AftershockFinally, former US Secretary of Labor Robert B. Reich, now at UC-Berkeley, argues in Aftershock: The Next Economy and America's Future (Knopf, Sept 2010, 174p) that the main cause of the Great Recession was the structural problem of increasing concentration of wealth and income at the top, and a middle class that is going deeply into debt.  To reduce inequality, Reich proposes a "New Deal for the Middle Class" based on wage supplements, higher taxes on the rich, wage insurance, school vouchers based on family income, college loans based on subsequent earning, and Medicare for all.

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