Book Review: Are the Rich Necessary?

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I just finished the book: “Are the Rich Necessary?: Great Economic Arguments and How They Reflect Our Personal Values” by Hunter Lewis.

As a fervent reader of this blog, you probably know that I like writing about economic issues, particularly those related to wealth disparity. So when I saw this book I was very excited because I thought I would get answers to why there are rich and poor people, and if ⁄ why this situation is necessary for a society to thrive.


Are the rich compatible with democracy? Should we accept such a high degree of inequality in our society? Does the profit system glorify greed? In “Are the Rich Necessary?” Hunter Lewis presents the most fundamental and provocative economic arguments that underlie society. Lewis connects economics directly with profound contemporary social issues. How are our personal values reflected in these issues and how do we choose between contending economic approaches? Most importantly, can philanthropy play a strategic role in helping people to lift themselves from poverty? Lewis offers a dramatic new proposal to significantly increase contributions to charitable organizations to help address key social issues. A challenging and sure to be influential book


The book is structured in 12 parts. The author tackles several issues surrounding the global economic system, by opposing arguments on:

  • The necessity of having rich people in an economy;
  • If the notions of wealth and private profit are compatible with democracy;
  • Alternatives to the profit system;
  • The role of government in reducing inequality and the excesses of the profit system;
  • The role of central banks in controlling economic cycles;
  • How global free trade affects local employment;
  • The different economic systems that prevail;
  • How the non-profit sector can be leveraged to improve the current system

Personally, I was a bit disappointed by the book, mainly because of the way it is written. Indeed, from beginning to end Hunter Lewis piles up YES⁄NO arguments on all the topics he tackles, which paradoxically makes it a bit difficult to follow. For example, the chapter “Are private profits necessary – YESNO”, includes a list of arguments for and against the premise (Argument 1, Argument 2: Response, etc.). This approach, which seems fair and methodic, actually has two disadvantages. First, it makes the reading very cumbersome. The reader’s experience is really not good because you’re constantly bounced back and forth between arguments, some of which are not developed in depth. Second, while the author never really expresses his own opinion, one can see an imbalance in the way arguments are constructed, which suggests that the author is for capitalism, private profit, and the limitation of the role of governments and central banks in regulating the economy. So I would have preferred Lewis to just express his standpoint by constructing sound and deep arguments one chapter after the other. The last section, where he proposes improvements to the economic system by giving more control to charitable organizations, is interesting, but could have been developed much further. Lewis limits himself to suggestions on taxation and the quasi-privatization of some government’s mandates through NGOs, but he does not construct a whole new model as an alternative to capitalism or socialism.

However the best part of the book in my opinion was definitely the appendices (at the end). The appendices are much better written than the rest of the book, because the author takes the time to explain fundamental notions like the history of money, the banking system, fractional reserving, the different schools of thoughts that exist on what causes of economic cycles, the impact of governments and monetary policies in causing depression, how the Federal Reserve System and other central banks operate, the role of the World bank and the IMF, the notions of profit and interesting thoughts on price control. All of this is contextualized within historical facts and references, thus providing a better understanding of how the financial and monetary systems work today.

Overall, it was an Okay book! I gave it a 3 out of 5 on GoodReads, because I learned a lot (mostly towards the end), and some people may actually like the writing style.

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