Book Bits: 20 January 2024

Limitarianism: The Case Against Extreme Wealth
Ingrid Robeyns
Review via The Times
Why should we tax the rich? Because that’s where the money is.
A new book putting the ‘limitarian’ case for imposing a ceiling on personal wealth begs an interesting debate about society’s future.
Nobody deserves to be a multimillionaire and no one, ideally, should be allowed to amass a personal fortune of more than £1 million. So says the Dutch philosopher and economist Ingrid Robeyns in a provocative new book, Limitarianism: The Case Against Extreme Wealth, out this month.
Limitarians believe that there should be a ceiling on personal wealth. Just as governments nowadays routinely set minimum legal wage levels, so they also should set maximum nest-egg sizes.
Much wealth is undeserved, amassed through criminality or market abuse of some kind and undermines democracy. Worse, the very process by which it is piled up has the effect of keeping the poor poor. That’s the limitarian view, anyway.

The Alternative: How to Build a Just Economy
Nick Romeo
Review via The Guardian
I wrestled with how to approach this review. On the one hand, The Alternative brings together an appealing range of ways people across the west are imaginatively and determinedly contesting the givens in today’s capitalism. There is an ache for better – for more just ways of organising the way we work and adding more meaning to our lives. You can’t help but applaud Nick Romeo for showing the workable alternatives to capitalism and the moral driver behind them – everything from the way companies are incorporated to how employees are hired, paid and enabled to share in the value they create. There is no need for ordinary workers to be pawns in a system that makes humanity and ethics secondary to the unbending logic of the marketplace and blind, selfish capital.
On the other hand, is it all worth more than a can of beans? How are a collection of disparate, often small scale, if great, initiatives going to grow into a systemic challenge to the way things are currently organised?

Beyond Complicity: Why We Blame Each Other Instead of Systems
Francine Banner
Summary via publisher (U. of California Press)
Beyond Complicity is a fascinating cultural diagnosis that identifies our obsession with complicity as a symptom of a deeply divided society. The questions surrounding what it means to be legally complicit are the same ones we may ask ourselves as we evaluate our own and others’ responsibility for inherited and ongoing harms, such as racism, sexism, and climate change: What does it mean that someone “knew” they were contributing to wrongdoing? How much involvement must a person have in order to be complicit? At what point are we obligated to intervene? Francine Banner ties together pop culture, politics, law, and social movements to provide a framework for thinking about what we know intuitively: that our society is defined by crisis, risk, and the quest to root out hazards at all costs.

Who Owns This Sentence?: A History of Copyrights and Wrongs
David Bellos and Alexandre Montagu
Review via The Economist
If Walt Disney were still alive, he would be dismayed at the new film role given to his signature character, Mickey Mouse, as a slasher hunting teenagers in an old arcade. The trailer for “Mickey’s Mouse Trap” was released on January 1st. That is the day the copyright of “Steamboat Willie”, the short film that introduced Mickey Mouse’s character in 1928, expired. This early version of Mickey is now in the public domain.
Even before the arrival of a murderous mouse, the field of copyright has been full of dramatic turns, as a new book, “Who Owns This Sentence?”, recounts. That is because “copyright is an edifice of words resting on a long and complicated string of metaphors and double meanings,” write the authors David Bellos, a professor at Princeton, and Alexandre Montagu, a lawyer. Over centuries artists, authors, lobbyists, publishers and public officials have defined and redefined the meaning of copyright, with debate and legal changes happening beyond the public eye.

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