1st Edition

The Privileges of Wealth Rising inequality and the growing racial divide

By Robert Williams Copyright 2017
    220 Pages 35 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    220 Pages 35 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    The American Dream is under assault. This threat results not from a lack of means, but from an unwillingness to share. Total household wealth increased by half in the past generation, but barely one fifth of American households captured this new wealth. For the rest, the dream of owning a home, gaining a secure retirement, and ensuring a college education for their kids is disappearing. Worse still, the widening wealth divide largely tracks our racial fault lines.

    The Privileges of Wealth investigates the impact of the rising concentration of wealth. It describes how households accumulate wealth along three pathways: household saving, appreciation of assets, and family gifts and inheritances. In addition, federal wealth policies, in the form of assorted tax deductions and credits, act as a fourth pathway that favors wealthy households. For those with means, each pathway operates as a virtuous cycle enabling families to build wealth with increasing ease. For those without, these same pathways are experienced as vicious cycles.

    The issue of wealth privilege is even more pronounced when examining the racial wealth gap. Typically, White households own ten times the wealth of Black or Latino families. This chasm results from the durability and transferability of wealth across generations and serves as a persistent legacy of our history of racial enslavement, expropriation, and exclusion. Current policies favoring the wealthy are simply cementing these wealth disparities.

    This book explains how these sources of wealth privilege are systemic features of our economy and the basis of rising disparities. The arguments and evidence presented here offer a compelling case for how our current policies are undermining the American Dream for most Americans while fortifying a White plutocracy, with dire consequences for us all.

    1 Cracks in the American Dream

    2 A primer on household wealth

    3 Pathways to wealth accumulation

    4 Recognizing our past

    5 Evidence of wealth privilege

    6 Three views of the American Dream

    7 Resilience and wealth privilege

    8 The spiral of privilege and policy

    9 The White plutocracy system


    Robert B. Williams is Professor of Economics at Guilford College, USA.

    'Robert Williams’ new book, The Privileges of Wealth: Rising Inequality and the Growing Racial Divide, is an effective, comprehensive, and empirically grounded exposition of the theory of wealth privilege.' - American Review of Political Economy

    'The Privileges of Wealth is the single most comprehensive examination of wealth inequality, chocked full of data gems, astute analysis, well-written, and accessible to all who struggle with Gini Coefficients. Robert B Williams’s book makes impressive sense because of its clarity, command of the facts, and, most of all, concern for social justice. All readers, whatever their political views, will find their thinking about wealth inequality challenged due to its breadth and scope and the data explored. After reading this book, it is near-impossible to continue denying the toxic consequences of historic income and wealth inequality. The data on group-based wealth disparities cannot be ignored and profoundly challenges the American Dream and meritocratic sensibilities.' — Thomas M Shapiro, Pokross Professor of Law and Social Policy, Director, Institute on Assets and Social Policy, The Heller School for Social Policy, Brandeis University, USA

    ‘This book ties together an examination of historical and contemporary policy, insights from economic theory, and detailed quantitative evidence to describe the key forces shaping wealth distribution in the US. It provides an accessible presentation of these issues that will be of wide interest.’ – Thomas N. Maloney, Department of Economics, University of Utah, USA

    "Robert Williams’ new book, The Privileges of Wealth: Rising Inequality and the Growing Racial Divide, is an effective, comprehensive, and empirically grounded exposition of the theory of wealth privilege." - Michael J. Murray, Bemidji State University