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August 22, 2000
Book Review: Economic Apartheid in America
A startling new book by co-founders of United for a Fair Economy highlights the downfalls of an
economic boom that has left millions of Americans behind.
Concern about the South African practice of apartheid, forced segregation and discrimination
against the black majority, sparked the growth of socially responsible investing in the 1970s and
1980s. A new book raises the specter of apartheid closer to home in the U.S., only this time the
inequality is not based on race, but on income.
"Economic Apartheid in America," by
Chuck Collins and Felice Yeskel, describes the growing economic divide between those benefiting
from the recent economic boom and those left behind. With stunning clarity, often with sardonic
humor, the book explains how the influence of corporations and wealthy individuals has undermined
many of the social principles Americans take for granted.
"Welcome to the new global
economy, designed by and for America's largest corporations and wealthiest individuals," write the
authors. "The economy at the beginning of this century makes the Reagan revolution of the 1980s
look like a sedate card party...But the reality is that many people are working extremely hard and
facing growing economic uncertainty."
"Economic Apartheid in America" points out the
stunning contrast between skyrocketing CEO pay at the top and the growing ranks of the working
poor, uninsured, and homeless at the bottom. In between, families who think of themselves as middle
class have less security than their counterparts of 30 years ago, as rising personal debt, more
expensive housing, and higher college costs squeeze their budgets.
The final outcome of
this economic disparity, according to the book, is that the religious, neighborhood, cultural, and
political threads that form our civic society have frayed. The polarization of wealth results in
less investment in the commonwealth and in our shared security sparking a "New Individualism,"
heralded by individual retirement accounts, college funds, and gated communities for the wealthy
Using plain language, graphic charts and graphs, and even comics by leading
political cartoonists, "Economic Apartheid in America" makes the persuasive argument that
government and corporate power shifts have deepened the economic divide. Sidebars support the text
with cogent facts and witty commentary like the "Buzz-saw Award" given to Black and Decker CEO
Nolan Archibald, who enjoyed a 686 percent pay hike the same year the company laid off 3,000
"Economic Apartheid in America" touches on many of the issues of concern to
social investors, from corporate welfare to labor rights, from community development to economic
globalization. It is a powerful call for a broad social movement to correct economic inequality,
one in which social investors could play a crucial role as shareholders.
and Yeskel are co-founders and co-directors of United for a Fair Economy, the Boston-based
organization dedicated to drawing attention to the growing income and wealth inequality in the U.S.
Collins is also the co-author of "Robin Hood Was Right: A Guide to Giving Your Money for Social
Change," and Yeskel teaches in the Social Justice Education Program at the University of
Massachusetts at Amherst.
"The paradox of increased inequality has been the failure of
large numbers of Americans to speak out or act forcefully against it," said the Forward by Juliet
Schor, author of "The Overworked American." "The work of United for a Fair Economy is beginning to
change that. They are beginning to catalyze a new movement for economic justice in the United
States. This may well be the roadmap."
"Economic Apartheid in America: A Primer on
Economic Inequality & Insecurity". Chuck Collins and Felice Yeskel. The New Press, 2000.
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