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Vanishing Middle Class: Prejudice and Power in a Dual Economy

by Peter Temin The MIT Press
Pub Date:
Pbk 288 pages
AU$39.99 NZ$43.47
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The United States is becoming a nation of rich and poor, with

few families in the middle. In this book, MIT economist Peter

Temin offers an illuminating way to look at the vanishing middle class. Temin argues that American history and politics, particularly slavery and its aftermath, play an important part in the widening gap between rich and poor. He employs a well-known, simple model of a dual economy to examine the  dynamics of the rich/poor divide in America, and outlines ways to work toward greater equality so that America will no longer have one economy

for the rich and one for the poor.


Although almost half of black Americans are poor, most poor

people are not black. Conservative white politicians still appeal

to the racism of poor white voters to get support for policies

that harm low-income people as a whole, casting recipients

of social programs as the Other—black, Latino, not like “us.”

Politicians also use mass incarceration as a tool to keep black

and Latino Americans from participating fully in society.

Money goes to a vast entrenched prison system rather than to

education. In the dual justice system, the rich pay fines and the

poor go to jail. An epilogue, new to the paperback edition, addresses the ways in which the Trump administration continues

this pattern of inequality.

There are a great many books to be read on the problem of growing inequality and the attendant social, political and economic issues that both cause it and result from it. If you had to read only one book on the growing crisis, The Vanishing Middle Class is it. Its powerful combination of race and class analysis doesn't hold back any punches in exposing the deliberate and systematic exploitation of the poor and the racialized by a minority of wealthy and mostly white elites in today's America.

Peter Temin is Professor of Economics Emeritus at MIT. He is the coauthor of Keynes: Useful Economics for the World Economy (MIT Press) and of The Leaderless Economy.