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Lifting up or tearing down?

Books that touch on equality in the United States

Lifting up or tearing down?
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Benjamin Franklin’s Last Bet

Michael Meyer

In his will, Benjamin Franklin left money to Philadelphia and Boston to loan out to tradesmen for the following 200 years. The idea was both to help the tradesmen build businesses and to create a large fund that could go to the cities in the 1990s for civic improvements. It didn’t work out quite that way: Meyer relates how Philadelphia squandered much of the money, while the trust that oversaw the money in Boston didn’t invest it in the manner Franklin directed. The outcome should perhaps raise concerns about placing too many resources in the hands of government, although Meyer doesn’t seem to share that concern. But he’s certainly right that Americans should focus more resources on education at trade schools and fewer on universities with wealthy endowments. Philanthropists should give the money now, though, not over 200 years.

The Black Agenda

Edited by Anna Gifty Opoku-Agyeman

Several left-wing political ideas get a hearing in The Black Agenda. A few may be worth pursuing (such as hiring more black police officers), and some of the chapters tell compelling stories, such as Hedwig “Hedy” Lee’s essay on the economic and emotional toll black women pay for the mass incarceration of black men. But if the book had room for a chapter on the role for queer creatives in environment sustainability, then surely it could have had a chapter on the need to restore the two-parent family, or about how mass immigration of low-skilled workers has held back wages among poor Americans (including poor black Americans).

What Do White Americans Owe Black People?

Jason D. Hill

The author calls for an end to the “moral laziness” of racial tribalism. We owe it to each other to see one another as individuals, Hill writes, not as part of races. As for reparations, Hill argues they began with LBJ’s Great Society welfare programs, and they were a disaster for poor black families. Interestingly for a libertarian, Hill contends that the violation of property rights in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (businesses could no longer turn away customers because of their race) was justified because the state itself had socialized whites into racism and needed to socialize them out of it. The logic he presents is persuasive. Readers don’t have to agree with Hill’s secular and sometimes surprising premises to agree with his conclusions.

A Brief History of Equality

Thomas Piketty

The author takes a global look at the modest growth in economic equality over the past few hundred years, a result mainly of the growth of the middle class. The book is at its best (and most readable) when Piketty describes some of the injustices of the past. But Piketty sees the welfare state as an unalloyed positive (and a generator, rather than product, of prosperity) and doesn’t take into account negative consequences. When he turns to America, for instance, he doesn’t discuss whether the Great Society has had negative effects for the family or whether government spending on higher education has contributed to runaway tuition prices. This doesn’t inspire confidence when he then urges the creation of transnational parliaments and the institution of global taxes on the wealthy to fund government spending in poor countries.

Timothy Lamer

Tim is executive editor of WORLD Commentary. He previously worked for the Media Research Center in Alexandria, Va. His work has also appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and The Weekly Standard.


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