James Galbraith deserves the Nobel Prize in Economics for his several decades of work on economic inequality. _Inequality and Instability_ attempts to summarize, synthesis, and further develop this phenomenal research. Galbraith has redefined the study of economic inequality; for Galbraith inequality is not merely an ethical issue, but inequality radically determines a society's level of unemployment, growth and development, and frequency and depth of economic crises.
Galbraith's research argues and convincingly demonstrates inequality largely determines (1) the relative stability of a macroeconomy, (2) market economies generate inequality, and inequality destabilizes the economic system, i.e. generates economic crises, (3) the primary industry responsible for inequality is finance and the institutional structure of finance within a society, this implies (4) technology is not the primary cause of inequality, nor even a significant cause of inequality at a national level, and (5) outsourcing and international competition has not been a significant cause of inequality, instead (6) macroeconomic policy (both monetary and fiscal, but more accurately especially monetary policy, but also fiscal policy determine the degree of inequality and inequality determines the level of stability or instability of an economy) and political ideology, i.e. political economy radically determine the degree of inequality.
Now for the less happy analysis.
In a three sentence evaluation of the book, Nobel Prize winner economist Joseph E. Stiglitz writes: "In _Inequality and Instability_, James K. Galbraith examines one the most pressing issues of our time. In this accessible and far-reaching volume he investigates not only the depth and breadth of inequality in Europe, America, and elsewhere, but also its implications for politics and society. It is a must-read, for anyone who wishes to understand our political and economic era."
I fully endorse the first and third sentences. Indeed, I fully endorse the second sentence, save one single word, i.e. accessible. If you are a Ph.D., or a Ph.D. student, this book is accessible. Moreover, if you have a mentor or you are in an upper division undergraduate college economic course with an instructor to explain regression equations, Theil statistics, Gini coefficients, etc. this book will be accessible. However, if you are unacquainted with these phenomena, this book will be less then accessible.
Nonetheless, this book is too important to be ignored by a popular audience, every engaged citizen should absorb the basic argument. I have a suggestion. First, pick up a copy of Galbraith's _Predator State_ (2006), and read chapter 7, titled "What the Rise of Inequality is Really About", as a preface to _Inequality and Instability_. Second, read an abridged version of _Inequality and Instability_, before attempting to tackle the entire book. My suggested abridged version (for an U.S. audience) is, chapter 1, pp. 47-50 of chapter 3, (and possibly pp. 50-62 of chapter 3), then chapters 6, 7 and 13.
What will be learned can be summarized as follows:
(1) Inequality generates unemployment, and unemployment generates inequality, this I dub `Galbraith's Law.' Unemployment was not much of a problem post-Reagan (post-1984-5), but inequality has been on the rise. What Galbraith's Law suggests is if inequality is on the rise, unemployment is to follow. This is what happened in 2007-8, inequality destabilized the economy, a crisis manifested, and generated unemployment. Since the Great Recession of 2007-8, the Obama administration has failed to address inequality; consequently Galbraith's Law suggests the "Jobless recovery" will continue until inequality is reduced.
(2) The financial industry, and its regulation or lack of regulation, is the primary determinant of the degree of inequality in an economy.
(3) The level of inequality radically determines the stability (low inequality) and instability (high inequality) of a macroeconomy.
(4) Economic policy can reduce or increase inequality in a society. Because of the importance of finance, monetary policy and interest rate changes can be argued to be the most important policy as both culprit and mediator of inequality.
(5) Although free-market labor market and wage policy does not necessarily cause severe income inequality, progressive labor market and wage policy is important policy to combat income inequality caused by the functioning (and dysfunction) of the financial industry which generates income inequality.