Whatever happened to the encouraging economic adage that hard work earns stability? Reality turned it to myth. Even before the economy recently downshifted, more and more people were struggling under the one-two punch of growing expenses and stagnant wages. This isn’t a simple glitch awaiting correction by that mysterious, revered abstraction known as “the market,” as Wall Street would have us believe. Instead, economist Jared Bernstein insists in Crunch: Why Do I Feel So Squeezed? (And Other Unsolved Economic Mysteries), it’s a function of income inequality, which is rising at an alarming rate in the United States. Economic growth is benefiting a very few people and leaving everyone else behind—a dilemma that calls for better public policy.
No mere populist rant, Crunch (Berrett-Koehler, 2008) is organized as a broad primer on U.S. economics that uses inequality as a starting point for understanding this wider subject. Bernstein’s concise explanations of issues like unemployment and health care expenses are meaty and engaging, offering laypeople tangible insight into how the economy functions and what it takes to ensure that those who make it work also share its rewards.