Briefly Noted

| November 2011
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The Haves and the Have-Nots: A Brief and Idiosyncratic History of Global
Inequality,
Branko Milanovic (New York: Basic Books, 2011), 272 pp., $27.95
cloth.

In this compact and lively examination of the nature, history, and causes of inequality,
Branko Milanovic discusses a series of issues that continue to puzzle economists.
How, for example, can we measure inequality between countries? What is the relationship
between inequality and economic growth within a state? Does globalization contribute
to—or, alternatively, lessen—absolute world inequality? What of its
effect on inequality within societies? Milanovic, the lead economist at the World
Bank’s research division in Washington, D.C., explains the history of these debates,
and the current consensus (or lack thereof) about the questions they seek to answer.

Take, for instance, the relationship between a state’s income level and its level
of inequality. For about half a century, says Milanovic, one leading theory was
Simon Kuznets’s hypothesis: preindustrial societies, though very poor, are relatively
equal, since the great majority of people are poor. During the period of industrialization
inequality increases due to diverging wages between industrial workers and farmers
and, moreover, between industrial workers themselves, whose increasing specialization
leads to further wage differentiation. Advanced economies, however, give rise
to the welfare state, which serves to blunt inequality. Plus, increasing levels
of education lessen wage differences. This idea could be represented graphically
as an inverted U. But, Milanovic notes, the data does not always—or even
generally—support this theory. Indeed, some advanced economies are beginning
to see inequality rise again. While contemporary economists focus on a number
of variables to explain this phenomenon (government spending, economic openness,
ideological opposition to welfare-type policies), no definitive explanation has
emerged.

The Haves and the Have-Nots is organized in a somewhat unconventional manner.
The book centers around three larger essays, each of which examines a different
aspect of inequality: within nations, among nations, and globally. Some of the
most engaging parts of the book, however, are sandwiched between these essays.
To illustrate and enliven these more academically minded sections of the book,
Milanovic turns to vignettes. Some are indeed "idiosyncratic," as Milanovic
himself promises in the title of his book. For instance, he estimates the relative
wealth of characters in Anna Karenina in order to examine inequality in
Russia during the novel’s time, and then compares it to inequality in that country
today. Other vignettes, however, offer distillations of major issues or phenomena
within the political economy of inequality. For example, his comparative analysis
of inequality within the EU and United States (and how it is distributed among
and within their constitutive units) is eye-opening, while his short chapter on
the ???? financial crisis argues that the real root causes of the crisis in the
United States were a financial elite with too much investment capital; a middle
class with declining purchasing power; and a political elite that, in order to
ensure social stability, gave that middle class access to cheap credit it could
not, in the long run, afford. Thus, according to Milanovic, the question is not
one of mere regulation of financial "instruments," but of general political
economy.

Human Trafficking: A Global Perspective
, Louise Shelley (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 2010), 356 pp., $85 cloth, $26.95 paper.

The trafficking of human beings for harvesting organs, sex and labor slavery,
forced military conscription, begging, and adoptions presents a formidable challenge
in the arena of global justice. The primary aim of this new work by Louise Shelley
is to show that human trafficking affects not only its victims but society as
a whole, and that the international community should be concerned about trafficking
for pragmatic reasons of shared security, as well as the more obvious moral, ethical,
and legal issues involved. Trafficking, Shelley points out, empowers corrupt border
officials, the traffickers themselves, and transnational organized criminal groups
(including terrorists), which can in turn lead to the loss of control of state
borders. Human trafficking also poses a significant threat to world health security,
given that trafficking is associated with the spread of a variety of diseases,
notably AIDS and tuberculosis.

Shelley also offers normative reasons to prioritize the eradication of human trafficking,
arguing that since trafficking requires unjustified coercion, it promotes authoritarianism
and threatens democratic norms. Of course, trafficking also causes major human
rights violations, given the physical and sexual violence associated with exploitive
labor; and it has a particularly deleterious effect on women’s rights and gender
equality.

In addition, Shelley offers an analysis of the aggravating effects that globalization
has had in perpetuating and escalating modern slavery. Though traditional conditions
of poverty and the low social status of women, children, and stateless persons
are at the root of the problem, such global developments as intensified disproportionate
economic growth (which has left the global poor especially vulnerable to the rise
in demand for exploitable labor) and easy access to low-cost transportation have
compounded the problem. After analyzing the region-by-region business models of
human trafficking organizations, Shelley advocates for a joint project involving
consumers, the business world, educational institutions, civil society, governments,
and multilateral organizations to bring an end to human trafficking.

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