Is Australia fair enough? And why does inequality matter anyway?
In Battlers and Billionaires, Andrew Leigh weaves together vivid stories, interesting history and powerful statistics to discuss why inequality matters – both why it can be good, and why it can be harmful. This is economics writing at its best.
For much of the twentieth century economic inequality fell in Australia, yet now it is returning to levels last seen in the 1920s. But this time it is not so much a case of the bottom falling back, as the top accelerating away.
Many people argue that inequality at the top end doesn't matter – and it turns out that countries with more inequality do grow a little faster. Yet on the whole, Leigh shows, growing inequality is a problem for society. Envy is a real human emotion, and more envy is bad for us as a nation. The super-rich can pollute the polity with excessive donations – from the Australian moguls of the 1920s to the Clive Palmers and Gina Rineharts of today. And the bigger the gap between rich and poor, the harder it is for a kid born into a dirt-poor family to make it into the middle class – what some have called 'the Great Gatsby effect'.
Battlers and Billionaires sheds fresh light on what makes Australia distinctive, and what it means to have – and keep – a fair go.