The best books on why we need a world without billionaires

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up in the 1950s next door to Long Island’s iconic Levittown. All my aunts and uncles lived in similar modest suburbs, and I assumed everyone else did, too. Maybe that explains why America’s sharp economic U-turn in the 1970s so rubbed me the wrong way. We had become, in the mid-20th century, the first major nation where most people—after paying their monthly bills—had money left over. Today we rate as the world’s most unequal major nation. Our richest 0.1 percent hold as much wealth as our bottom 90 percent. I’ve been working with the Institute for Public Studies, as co-editor of, to change all that.

I wrote...

The Case for a Maximum Wage

By Sam Pizzigati,

Book cover of The Case for a Maximum Wage

What is my book about?

Modern societies set limits, on everything from how fast motorists can drive to how many ducks hunters can shoot. But our incomes have no limits. CEOs routinely pocket more in a day than their workers earn in a year. Could capping top incomes narrow our grand divides? Egalitarians worldwide, The Case for a Maximum Wage points out, are showing that caps on incomes can be both economically viable and politically practical.

Two American cities have already enacted penalties on enterprises with wide gaps between worker and executive pay. Activists elsewhere are working to deny inequality-generating enterprises government contracts. The ultimate goal? A world without a mega-rich. The Case for a Maximum Wage explains why we need that world—and how we can speed its creation.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger

Sam Pizzigati Why did I love this book?

The British epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett have an American doctor friend who has a fascinating exercise for his first-year medical school students.

This doctor asks his students to write a speech detailing why the USA has the world’s best health. The students eagerly set about collecting all the relevant data and quickly find themselves absolutely shocked. Among major developed nations, the USA turns out to have the worst health.

Americans also turn out to be up to ten times more likely than people in other developed nations to get murdered or become drug addicts. What’s going on here? Inequality!

The more wealth concentrates at a society’s summit, Wilkinson and Pickett vividly show in this 2009 classic, the worse that society performs on the yardsticks that define basic health and decency. 

By Richard Wilkinson, Kate Pickett,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Spirit Level as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Groundbreaking analysis showing that greater economic equality-not greater wealth-is the mark of the most successful societies, and offering new ways to achieve it.

"Get your hands on this book."-Bill Moyers

This groundbreaking book, based on thirty years' research, demonstrates that more unequal societies are bad for almost everyone within them-the well-off and the poor. The remarkable data the book lays out and the measures it uses are like a spirit level which we can hold up to compare different societies. The differences revealed, even between rich market democracies, are striking. Almost every modern social and environmental problem-ill health, lack of…

Book cover of Beyond Growth: The Economics of Sustainable Development

Sam Pizzigati Why did I love this book?

The climate crisis, many of us now understand, may just end up crushing us. What can save us from that crushing?

Greater income equality, the former World Bank economist Herman Daly argued in this concise 1996 volume, has to be central to our solution. Daly, who passed away in 2022, pioneered the discipline of ecological economics.

Our planet, this University of Maryland professor emeritus believed, has “a limit to the total material production that the ecosystem can support.” In other words, we can’t afford to continue grasping for ever more.

We need to center ourselves instead around having enough, and that means, Daly concluded, moving toward adopting a “maximum personal income” since having 99 percent of a limited total product “go to only one person” would be “clearly unjust.”

By Herman E. Daly,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Beyond Growth as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Daly is turning economics inside out by putting the earth and its diminishing natural resources at the center of the field . . . a kind of reverse Copernican revolution in economics." 
--Utne Reader

"Considered by most to be the dean of ecological economics, Herman E. Daly elegantly topples many shibboleths in Beyond Growth. Daly challenges the conventional notion that growth is always good, and he bucks environmentalist orthodoxy, arguing that the current focus on 'sustainable development' is misguided and that the phrase itself has become meaningless."
--Mother Jones

"In Beyond Growth, . . . [Daly] derides the concept of…

Book cover of The Overspent American: Why We Want What We Don't Need

Sam Pizzigati Why did I love this book?

Our nation’s most insightful—and readable—sociologist? Boston College’s Juliet Schorr has my vote.

Over the past quarter-century, Schor has probably done more than anyone else in the world to bring grand conceptual constructs like income distribution down to the nitty-gritty of daily life.

Her 1999  best-seller, The Overspent American, strikingly exposes how inequality unleashes a “competitive consumption” dynamic that has us consuming ever more and enjoying life ever less. And that dynamic poses more dangers today than ever before.

As Schor put it in an interview with her I did some years back, we have “no chance” at achieving ecological sustainability “with the kind of extreme income distribution” that we have today. 

By Juliet B. Schor,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Overspent American as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An in-depth look at the corruption of the American Dream, the follow-up to the the Overworked American examines the consumer lives of Americans and the pitfalls of keeping up with the Joneses. Schor explains how and why the purchases of others in our social and professional communities can put pressure on us to spend more than we can afford to, how television viewing can undermine our ability to save, and why even households with good incomes have taken on so much debt for so many products they dont need and often dont even want.

Book cover of Securing the Fruits of Labor: The American Concept of Wealth Distribution, 1765-1900

Sam Pizzigati Why did I love this book?

The urge to limit vast accumulations of individual wealth, the historian James Huston reminds us in this 1998 deep dive into America’s largely forgotten past, turns out to be as American as apple pie.

The new American nation, as John Adams put in in 1776, would only be able to preserve the “balance of power on the side of equal liberty and public virtue” by dividing the nation’s land “into small quantities, so that the multitude may be possessed of landed estates.”

Thomas Jefferson fully agreed. A republic, he insisted, “cannot invent too many devices for subdividing property.” Our founders never lived up to these noble aims. We still can.

By James L Huston,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Securing the Fruits of Labor as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In his comprehensive study of the economic ideology of the early republic, James L. Huston argues that Americans developed economic attitudes during the Revolutionary period that remained virtually unchanged until the close of the nineteenth century. Viewing Europe's aristocratic system, early Americans believed that the survival of their new republic depended on a fair distribution of wealth, brought about through political and economic equality.

The concepts of wealth distribution formulated in the Revolutionary period informed works on nineteenth-century political economy and shaped the ideology of political parties. Huston reveals how these ideas influenced debates over reform, working-class agitation, political participation,…

Book cover of Enough: True Measures of Money, Business, and Life

Sam Pizzigati Why did I love this book?

John Bogle, the founder of the Vanguard mutual fund group, passed away in 2019 at age 89. His final net worth: some $80 million.

That personal fortune, notes economist Dean Baker, might well have reached the tens of billions had Bogle operated as a standard-issue Wall Street exec. But he never did. Bogle invented the notion of the low-fee index fund, and he organized Vanguard as an entity owned by the shareholders in the mutual funds Vanguard offers.

In the process, Bogle infuriated much of Wall Street. Critics called his approach “worse than Marxism.” In Enough, his highly readable 2009 book, the soft-spoken Bogle fired back: “The super-wealth we observe at the most extreme reaches of our society,” he would eloquently posit, amounts to “more bane than blessing.”

By John C. Bogle,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Enough as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

John Bogle puts our obsession with financial success in perspective Throughout his legendary career, John C. Bogle-founder of the Vanguard Mutual Fund Group and creator of the first index mutual fund-has helped investors build wealth the right way and led a tireless campaign to restore common sense to the investment world. Along the way, he's seen how destructive an obsession with financial success can be. Now, with Enough., he puts this dilemma in perspective. Inspired in large measure by the hundreds of lectures Bogle has delivered to professional groups and college students in recent years, Enough. seeks, paraphrasing Kurt Vonnegut,…

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Native Nations: A Millennium in North America

By Kathleen DuVal,

Book cover of Native Nations: A Millennium in North America

Kathleen DuVal Author Of Independence Lost: Lives on the Edge of the American Revolution

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a professional historian and life-long lover of early American history. My fascination with the American Revolution began during the bicentennial in 1976, when my family traveled across the country for celebrations in Williamsburg and Philadelphia. That history, though, seemed disconnected to the place I grew up—Arkansas—so when I went to graduate school in history, I researched in French and Spanish archives to learn about their eighteenth-century interactions with Arkansas’s Native nations, the Osages and Quapaws. Now I teach early American history and Native American history at UNC-Chapel Hill and have written several books on how Native American, European, and African people interacted across North America.

Kathleen's book list on the American Revolution beyond the Founding Fathers

What is my book about?

A magisterial history of Indigenous North America that places the power of Native nations at its center, telling their story from the rise of ancient cities more than a thousand years ago to fights for sovereignty that continue today

Native Nations: A Millennium in North America

By Kathleen DuVal,

What is this book about?

Long before the colonization of North America, Indigenous Americans built diverse civilizations and adapted to a changing world in ways that reverberated globally. And, as award-winning historian Kathleen DuVal vividly recounts, when Europeans did arrive, no civilization came to a halt because of a few wandering explorers, even when the strangers came well armed.

A millennium ago, North American cities rivaled urban centers around the world in size. Then, following a period of climate change and instability, numerous smaller nations emerged, moving away from rather than toward urbanization. From this urban past, egalitarian government structures, diplomacy, and complex economies spread…

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