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Book Review: "Limitarianism" by Ingrid Robeyns

5/5 - an incredible case against extreme wealth...

By Annie KapurPublished about a month ago 7 min read
From: Amazon

I was seeing this book everywhere on the Penguin Books Twitter page and on news websites regarding newly released nonfiction. Had I ever wanted to read a book about economic inequality? No. Why? I'll be frank. I find it difficult to understand economic jargon. So again, I have had to sit with Google open in order to look up things I don't fully understand. In this relatively short book, the author seems to go through many ideas about how 'limitarianism' could work and basically makes a great case against having a large sum of wealth which could in turn, increase economic inequality. Let's take a look at some of the main talking points and what I thought of them.

The author starts the text by helping the reader put into context what £23 billion looks like, stating that no normal human being working a regular job for most of their working lives could ever be able to come near to amassing such money even if they didn't spend anything and they had no tax payments. She then explains what led her to become so involved in this idea of advocating for limitarianism in order to reduce the inequality shown here: she goes through large global events, one of which includes the 2008 financial crisis. Limitarianism basically advocates for a cap on the amount of wealth a person can have as past this point, it becomes a problem for economic inequality as things like tax breaks and equality of opportunity start to creep in.

From: The Guardian

To comment on these points from the earlier section of the book, I think that this could be a wonderful idea in order to reduce the amount of inequality felt by those who live in poverty, however whether it is actually going to happen is an entirely different thing. Her optimism for the future does astound me at times. She makes claims about the super-wealthy wanting to redstribute their wealth or at least invest it in some way that benefits those at the bottom. However, I believe that the amount that this is happening is currently going to have no impact on economic inequality as it does not promote equality of opportunities. Redestribution should not be the goal, instead it should be investment and funding.

Another point that is referenced constantly throughout the book is that if someone believes in equality they should also believe in how super-wealthy allowances promote economic inequality and thus, seek to solve the problem. I think that this is a fair point however reductive it might seem. A person who believes in these things who is at the bottom of this economic scale cannot really do anything themselves that would promote economic equality. I feel that though we can believe in it, it takes an absolute change not just at the top but also in office to stop this problem growing as it is right now.

From: Amazon

One of the arguments I liked in the book is the fact that trickle down economics has been disproven over and over again whilst also being the main talking point of neoliberals who support the breaks often afforded to the super-wealthy. The example is that a super-wealthy person investing in opportunities that will support people through providing lots of jobs and therefore, a better standard of living is basically a fallacy and a pipe dream. The belief that therefore wealth will trickle down to these workers and give them more chances to do more with their lives is more than often a side-note for labour exploitation.

What actually happens is that the greatest gains from any part of the work will be at the super-wealthy end of the scale and thus, through these afforded tax breaks, the chance to do more with more money and more opportunities available to them which are seen as altruistic, the trickle is not down to the bottom but up to the top. The wealth actually goes from the poor to the rich, not the rich to the poor. Therefore, these opportunities created for the poor (jobs, pay etc) do not have any significant impact on the greater wealth inequality and yes, it is still growing. I found this fascinating because I have heard time and time again about the trickle down theory and yet, every time I have seen it implimented, it never actually works out like that at all. It's nice to have one of my thoughts confirmed and proven by academia and data.

From: Post and Courier

Another part of the book I thought was really well-explained was the idea that Neoliberalism in economics has been the root cause of the growth of inequality. The context provided is both from the United States and the United Kingdom with the Neoliberal economical states of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan basically concentrated on the same thing - affording tax breaks to the rich. The manufacturing powers therefore went elsewhere in order to gain access to cheaper labour than that in their home countries.

I would like to add the note of how this reminded me of the song Union Sundown by Bob Dylan from his album Infidels. Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan had not qualms about firing union organisers, people on strike and anyone who refused to do their work for less now that their work was slowly disappearing. This seems to be the root cause of most of the issues in the economy faced today - paying the price for the way those two ruined it for everyone.

Neoliberalism is stated in the book to be an argument for how people are intrisically selfish and do not seek to make profits for the companies they are working for. It also states that this is a case for people being closely monitored in the workplace to ensure everything is working towards a growing profit from which, it is argued that everyone can benefit. Already having investigated how trickle down economics basically does not exist, the author also makes the case for how neoliberalism's fallacies of economy cannot work since the rich and the poor have not gained from this idea of capitalism in the same way. Whilst poverty has reduced (mainly because of moving goalposts for what is considered poverty - a point I will talk about in a moment), people still cannot do much with their money in comparison to the super-wealthy, who have gained from capitalism in ways that are incomprehensible to regular people.

From: Irish Independent

Poverty at the moment is understood in terms of money rather than what someone can do with the wealth that they have. Therefore, according to the text, it is essentially flawed. The line for what poverty constitutes as is often set so low that it is no longer defined as being relative to the circumstances or societies in which someone lives and therefore, again is not representative of any realistic situation. Comparisons against numbers regarding poverty before the Second World War are often based on rough data of what we believe people were earning in different careers back then, but are not based upon pricing and spending habits at all. Therefore, again the comparison of there being less poverty now is not representative of anything because in both cases poverty is not being looked at contextually. The book argues that we look at poverty from a standpoint of what people can actually do with their wealth and whether they have access to what are supposed to be 'equal opportunities' such as healthcare and education.

This is actually a point I thought was quite fascinating because at the moment especially, there is much talk about how poverty has reduced, but no talk about how economic inequality has basically increased to a lot more than it has ever been. The old phrase about the poor getting poorer and the rich getting richer comes to mind. The numbers required for extreme poverty are often not representative of anything except for money and therefore, is not representative of very much in the real world at all where money has to be spent in order for someone to live. Poverty may create issues and reducing it may suggest that those issues have reduced, but economic inequalities of this size create undue stresses, chronic illnesses and reduces equal access to everything at the bottom end of the scale. Therefore, we have basically solved none of the problems that pervade a society which sounds more feudal than our societies today.

Poverty is not the only cause of this economic inequality though, another cause highlighted by the book is when the wealthy recieve tax breaks or have tax havens in which their wealth goes untaxed. Paying the significant taxes that are required of them would in turn, improve services for communities in which tax money is spent. These improvement in services creates access for people living in poverty, helping them to get healthcare, education and a number of other things. Support services can be funded this way and more than often, it is the local communities that require to start this.

From: Irish Independent

Giving the super-wealthy these tax breaks only fuels this inequality of access as there is now not enough money going into the services that support the majority of the population, some of whom will be working for the companies started by the super-wealthy. Taxation breaks as labour exploitation is clear. Keeping the poor people locked in a system without access is the best way to keep them under your control. This is not the super-wealthy person's fault - it is the government's fault. The book does an excellent job in explaining how all of these things fit together and how governments more than often maliciously align themselves with supporting these special services awarded only to the ultra-rich. The irony is that a lot of the super-wealthy already recognise this maliciousness and have therefore aligned themselves with supporting taxation.

All in all, I thought that this book though it was difficult to read was something genuinely interesting because the case against extreme wealth is not against being rich, it is against the government incentives which give tax breaks and affordances to the super-wealthy which damage the quality of life for the people at the bottom. I highly recommend this read if you want proof that it is the government, not the rich, damaging communities and their services.


About the Creator

Annie Kapur

200K+ Reads on Vocal.

English Lecturer

🎓Literature & Writing (B.A)

🎓Film & Writing (M.A)

🎓Secondary English Education (PgDipEd) (QTS)

📍Birmingham, UK

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  • Alex H Mittelman about a month ago

    A fantastic review! Tax the rich! I’ll get this book for sure!

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