"Takes dead aim at the conservative economic consensus that has dominated U.S. politics . . . Biting and necessary."—The American Prospect
In this provocative, witty, and revealing polemic, Daniel Brook's The Trap argues that the exploding income gap—a product of the conservative ascendance—is systematically dismantling the American dream, as debt-laden, well-educated young people are torn between their passions and the pressure to earn six-figure incomes.
Rising education, housing, and health-care costs have made it virtually impossible for all but the corporate elite to enjoy what were once considered middle-class comforts. Thousands are afflicted with a wrenching choice: take up residence on America's financial and social margins or sell out. And it's not just impoverished teachers and social workers, struggling to pay their rent, who are hurt. From the activist who works to give others a living wage but isn't paid one himself, to the universal health-care advocate who becomes a management consultant for Big Pharma, Brook presents a damning indictment of the economic and political landscape that traps young Americans.
When the best and the brightest cannot afford to serve the public good, Brook asks, what are we selling out: an individual's career, or the very promise of American democracy?
Twenty-something journalist Brook sees the best minds of his generation scrivening away as corporate lawyers and accountants, and he's furious about it. His fresh and striking pay-gap polemic laments the plight of "educated, idealistic young people" who must choose whether "to be a sellout or a saint" that is, whether to take a lucrative corporate job or to eke out a pauper's existence in creative or nonprofit work. "The new economic realities," Brook writes, "are shaping people's lives, closing off certain career and lifestyle options. They are reducing freedom." Brook marshals facts and interviews to make his case for "more egalitarian economic policies." Decrying recent economic shifts that have widened the chasm between private and public sector employment, he skewers centrist "New Democrats" as well as usual-suspects such as William F. Buckley and Ronald Reagan. Brook preaches too narrowly to the choir (proclaiming that "as is plain to see, the conservative philosophy is wrong"), and his solutions are limited to calling for "truly progressive taxation" and insisting that "the public sector should pay its professionals more." Still, many readers will wince in recognition of their work/life compromises. "Corporate America is riddled with secret dissenters," Brook notes; he does a real service asking why it must be this way.