Ganesh Sitaraman, Alfred A. Knopf, 423 pages, $28.
In his fine book, Ganesh Sitaraman argues that the contemporary explosion of inequality will destroy the American Constitution, which is and was premised on the existence of a large and thriving middle class. He has done us all a great service, taking an issue of overwhelming public importance, delving into its history (from the Roman empire to our country) and building a platform to think about it today. The founders worried a good deal about people getting too rich. James Madison understood the threat to the Constitution that industrialization would bring, and of course those fears were realized by the late 19th century, when inequality had reached levels comparable to today. Sitaraman reviews many possible correctives, including redistribution to reduce inequality; better enforcement of antitrust laws; and campaign finance reform. Sitaraman, an associate law professor at Vanderbilt University, even discusses the idea of reviving the Roman tribunate: 51 citizens would be selected by lot from the bottom 90 percent of the income distribution. They would be able to veto one statute, one executive order and one Supreme Court decision each year; they would be able to call a referendum, and impeach federal officials. Such a proposal seems fanciful today, but so is campaign finance reform, or greater redistribution of wealth. Yet we do well to remember economist Milton Friedman’s dictum that it takes a crisis to bring real change.
NEW YORK TIMES