Unjust Deserts

How the Rich Are Taking Our Common Inheritance and Why We Should Take It Back

Why most of the wealth that is earned comes in the form of a “free lunch”—and why, logically, we must give most of it back to society as a result

“The inherited wealth created by our forebears ultimately belongs to all of us and to the future. Alperovitz and Daly give modern Americans a key to understanding how we can create the society of justice and equality that earlier generations sought.” —William Greider, author of The Soul of Capitalism: Opening Paths to a Moral Economy

Warren Buffett is worth nearly $50 billion. Does he “deserve” all this money? Buffett himself will tell you that “society is responsible for a very significant percentage of what I’ve earned.”

Unjust Deserts offers an entirely new approach to the wealth question. In a lively synthesis of modern economic, technological, and cultural research, Gar Alperovitz and Lew Daly demonstrate that up to 90 percent (and perhaps more) of current economic output derives not from individual ingenuity, effort, or investment but from our collective inheritance of scientific and technological knowledge: an inheritance we all receive as a “free lunch.”

Alperovitz and Daly then pursue the implications of this research, persuasively arguing that there is no reason any one person should be entitled to that inheritance. Recognizing the true dimensions of our unearned inheritance leads inevitably to a new and powerful moral case for wealth redistribution—and to a series of practical policies to achieve it in an era when the disparities have become untenable.