Economic Inequality and the Role of Law

In this ambitious book, famed commentator and analyst Kevin Phillips attempts nothing less than a political history of American economic life with a specific focus on the wealthy. Succeeding far more often than not, Phillips interweaves the development of American technology with the rise and fall of economic fortunes, crafting a compelling tale with significant implications for the formulation of public policy and the laws that implement such policy. Festooned with more than seventy charts and graphs, the book explains how wealth has been accumulated throughout the entire history of the United States. It is full of intriguing insights and demands serious consideration of its message and warnings. For example, one of the book’s persistent themes is that concentration of economic power inevitably corrupts the political process – a point dramatized in recent debates about campaign finance, including the valiant efforts of Senator John McCain and former Senator Bill Bradley in the most recent presidential-election campaign. But Phillips goes further to show how the political process, thus corrupted, spews forth public policies that protect its patrons, often at the expense of the masses whose votes theoretically sustain that process. Even more important, Phillips shows how the economic concentration that corrupts the political process came about – namely, through exploiting public policies for private gain. As he states with unflinching clarity: “Laissez-faire is a pretense. Government power and preferment have been used by the rich, not shunned” (p. xiv).