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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 minority.

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 workers.

"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.

Authors Collins 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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