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The Trouble With Billionaires [Hardcover]

Neil Brooks , Linda McQuaig
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Sept. 14 2010

The glittering lives of billionaires may seem like a harmless source of entertainment. But such concentrated economic power reverberates throughout society, threatening the quality of life and the very functioning of democracy. It's no accident that the United States claims the most billionaires—but suffers among the highest rates of infant mortality and crime, the shortest life expectancy, as well as the lowest rates of social mobility and electoral political participation in the developed world.

Our society tends to regard large fortunes as evidence of great talent or accomplishment. Yet the vast new wealth isn't due to an increase in talent or effort at the top, but rather to changing social attitudes legitimizing greed and government policy changes that favour the new elite. Authoritative and eye-opening, The Trouble with Billionaires will spark debate about the kind of society we want.


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The Trouble With Billionaires + Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else
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Product Description

Quill & Quire

The Trouble with Billionaires isn’t exclusively focused on exposing the problems caused by individuals with buckets of money. It is more concerned with how our culture, our government, and our economic system has allowed a handful of people to accumulate tremendous wealth and power while so many others languish in or near poverty. Linda McQuaig, the author of Shooting the Hippo and The Cult of Impotence, and Neil Brooks, an Osgoode Hall tax law professor, make a convincing case that economic inequality is one of the largest problems facing the U.S. and Canada, taking a serious toll on people’s health and well-being and skewing the balance of political power toward the wealthiest slice of society.

While the subject is undeniably crucial, some of the points the authors make are, by now, well known. For example, they draw comparisons between our current level of inequity and that of the 1920s just prior to the Great Depression. They also attempt to mix anecdote and hard data in Gladwellian fashion, but they are mostly unconvincing. This is especially true of a chapter that leans too heavily on baseball metaphors that don’t really translate to economic or political contexts.

The most compelling material, believe it or not, explains how the tax code and other state interventions in the market helped create so many billionaires, who frequently spend their considerable political and financial capital calling for even freer markets and even more advantageous regulations and tax breaks. Some of these details, like the explanation of how a couple of Canada’s richest families have been able to avoid major tax penalties, are truly revelatory.

The Trouble with Billionaires should raise the profile not only of these issues, but also of co-author Brooks. A LexisNexis search of The Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star turned up his name only twice (once in an article about this book and once in a McQuaig column) in the last two years. Meanwhile, Kevin Gaudet, the director of the right-wing Canadian Taxpayers Federation, appeared in more than 50 articles during the same period. It would be nice to have Brooks’s perspective and intelligence added to this debate.


'Entertaining and enraging... assiduously researched and a fast-paced read.' -- John Kampfner Observer --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
30 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought-provoking book Dec 20 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The back of this book lists an interesting fact. If you made a dollar per second, every second, you'd be a millionaire in 11.5 days. At that same rate ($3600 per hour) it would take you 32 YEARS to become a billionaire! If Bill Gates had made his fortune at that rate, he would have had to start 1,600 years ago! What this means in practice is that billionaires represent a form of wealth beyond the experience, or even comprehension, of most people. McQuaig and Brooks argue in this book that these extreme cases of wealth are harmful in a variety of ways.

Their first argument is that billionaires contributed to both the Great Depression as well as the recent depression. In a nutshell, when money leaves the hands of the middle class for the extreme rich, there is less money for general spending (run the example in reverse- you'd have to spend $3600 per hour for 32 years to run out of $1,000,000,000!!!) and more for investing (they can't spend it, so they invest it). That money led to inflated bubbles and riskier investments, leading ultimately to market crashes. Trickle down economics doesn't work (91% of the wealth created in the last two decades in the US went to the top 10%).

Their second argument is that huge disparities in wealth lead to health problems. This is becoming a well-established fact in social studies. Income disparity appears to be the best predictor of violent homicides. It also predicts general health. In a fascinating (and I think very intuitively powerful) example, the average height of Americans (who have the greatest inequality of any "modern" country by a long-shot) is growing slower than the height of Europeans, even controlling for immigrants.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Taking a serious look at INCOME INEQUALITY Jan. 18 2011
By Stephen Pletko TOP 50 REVIEWER

"As a result of the increasing concentration of income and wealth at the top during the last few decades, the United States, Britain, and Canada have become extremely unequal societies...What exists today in the Anglo-American countries is an excessive level of inequality that has rarely been seen in modern history...

In the past few decades the middle and lower classes have experienced almost no growth in income. Virtually all the income growth has been at the top, particularly at the very top. The top-earning 1 percent of Americans now enjoy a whopping 24 percent of the national income. These high rollers make up an enormously rich and powerful class that can be described as a plutocracy."

The above is found in this fascinating and tremendously informative book by Linda McQuaig and Neil Brooks. McQuaig is a columnist for the Toronto Star newspaper and author while Brooks is a professor of tax law at Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto.

Contrary to the title of this book and as can be garnered from the quotation that begins this review, this book is about income inequality with billionaires being at the extreme of this inequality.

When I first picked up this book, I thought it was going to be one long diatribe against billionaires, a diatribe driven by jealousy and envy. Nothing could be further from the truth. This book delves into history and critically analyses recent events. It looks into the myths, misconceptions, and realities that inundate the capitalistic economic system. Above all, it makes reasoned, rational arguments.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The trouble with billionaires Dec 29 2010
Clearly and convincingly makes the case for the problems with the growing inequality in the world but particularly in the US, Canada and UK. The very rich have as much to fear from this issue as the poor in the long run but their short term vision may make them not take any steps to help correct things.
I recommend this book to anyone with an open mind.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Seven stars Nov. 21 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
McQuaig has written a timely call to arms about the manipulation of the general population by the super rich. What The Occupy movement failed to do was read this book before they marched. They needed McQuaig's expert analysis and attainable recommendations to give momentum to their diffuse frustrations about the leap frogging of powerful elites over the backs of the middle class.

McQuaig lays bare the insidious progression of power from the majority to the very few and describes how those few have held fast the reins of wealth and power in the US and Canada since the early 1900s. The book is not just bitter cynicism or resentment of the 'haves' by the 'have nots' instead it offers concrete recommendations for reform that would rebalance the distribution of wealth and give opportunities to our young people. I will definitely be using this in classes and urging my university students to read and discuss this book with their peer groups. The current model of obtaining an undergraduate degree in order to join the ranks of those serving non-fat lattes at Starbucks surely holds less appeal to these bright young people than finding new ways forward to create a society that actually gives a damn. Please read this book.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Very informative
I have ready a number of books on the .1%, but this book did a great job helping me understand just how different they are from "the rest of us" in ways that truly matter -... Read more
Published 7 months ago by C. Payette
5.0 out of 5 stars Read it!
This book is a must...
The chapter on the myth of motivation is worth the price of the book
The book contains important historical information...
A must read
Published 8 months ago by Francine Tremblay
5.0 out of 5 stars brilliant expose of the current economic crimes against humanity
journalist, Linda McQuaig and tax lawyer, Neil Brooks, have written a brilliant and humorous refutation of all the lame and self-serving excuses why the rich and corporations... Read more
Published 12 months ago by Derek Stephen McPhail
5.0 out of 5 stars The trouble with Billionnaires
I always look forward to reading Linda Mcquaig's latest book and she always delivers.Should be read by everyone who is struggling to make ends meet and those who think we live in... Read more
Published 22 months ago by norma sinclair
2.0 out of 5 stars heavily padded pamphlet
That all the qualitative views presented in The Trouble With Billionaires are accurate does not compensate for the fact that the book only contains enough content to fill a few... Read more
Published on Oct. 17 2012 by ogilive
5.0 out of 5 stars Thoughtful
Highly recommended. This book focusses on whether rich people deserve their riches or are just entitled to them, and whether they owe society more for their riches, and whether... Read more
Published on Oct. 2 2011 by Gord McKenna
5.0 out of 5 stars Living Standards
This is a well researched & written book & I highly recommend it if you are interested
in our standard of living. Read more
Published on Aug. 25 2011 by Seven Seas
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book
This book is amazing. It takes the mythology of neo-conservatism and blows it apart with the hard truth about the wealthy and their quest to hoard it for themselves like greedy... Read more
Published on July 17 2011 by Sandra
5.0 out of 5 stars All voters need to read this book
I read this book in a single session, which I rarely do with any book.
It is an easy read, with many illuminating analogies to help bring attention to some important facts. Read more
Published on July 17 2011 by Eric Lawton
5.0 out of 5 stars A very well written book with a compelling argument
The other review is a little too harsh (the long one). Implementing changes in society that will eliminate the existence of billionaires requires a book in itself. Read more
Published on Dec 23 2010 by anonymous
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