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Book Review: The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap by Matt Taibbi 
9th-Feb-2016 10:29 am
The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth GapThe Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap by Matt Taibbi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Taibbi writes with a very distinctive style - he has a gift for outlandish and vivid metaphors, and a taste for highly emotive language. Sometimes, I wish he would cool it a little, because as a reader I'm wary of being manipulated. And there's plenty of stuff in this book where the bare clinical facts are entirely sufficient to produce outrage, and I don't need the author metaphorically poking me in the ribs saying, "Hey! Hey! Are you angry yet?"

And this book will definitely make you angry (and depressed), but it's an important read. Taibbi does an excellent job of dissecting two trends in the American justice system. First, the extent to which corporate fraud and other financial crimes are prosecuted very gingerly, if at all, and second, the extent to which (often poor, often non-white) individuals can routinely have the full force of the court system thrown at them for relatively minor offenses. The causes behind this are many. There's a big dollop of flawed legal precedent: the tale of the Holder memo is an amazing case study in unintended consequences from a policy that wasn't thoroughly thought through. There are lots of skewed institutional incentives: it turns out that if you evaluate police performance on a metric of number of arrests, police will find ways to make arrests at any cost. And if you tell the Justice Department that the thing that matters most is successful prosecutions, you can pretty much guarantee that the Justice Department will only prosecute slam-dunk cases. There's a whole lot of political theater in the form of politicians scoring cheap points by going after welfare recipients and undocumented immigrants. And a great big chunk of simple racism.

I don't think that there are simple solutions to any of these causes, but having read this book, I now feel much better informed about what the causes are, and ready to join the discussion of how to address them.

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