Policy Press

Why We Can't Afford the Rich

By Andrew Sayer


Nov 11, 2015

Page count

448 pages




216 x 138 mm


Policy Press
Why We Can't Afford the Rich

As inequalities widen and the effects of austerity deepen, in many countries the wealth of the rich has soared. Why we can’t afford the rich exposes the unjust and dysfunctional mechanisms that allow the top 1% to siphon off wealth produced by others, through the control of property and money. Leading social scientist Andrew Sayer shows how the rich worldwide have increased their ability to create indebtedness and expand their political influence.

Winner of the 2015 British Academy Peter Townsend Prize, this important book bursts the myth of the rich as specially talented wealth creators. It shows how the rich are threatening the planet by banking on unsustainable growth. The paperback includes a new Afterword updating developments in the last year and forcefully argues that the crises of economy and climate can only be resolved by radical

change to make economies sustainable, fair and conducive to well-being for all.

"massive admiration for the delightful eloquence of the author, who guides readers carefully and enlighteningly through political-economic terms, concepts and theories that can often be, in the hands of other writers, opaque and/or dangerously misleading" Soundings

"In his book, [Sayer] reveals the crippling and unfair means by which the 1% manage to personally gain wealth that's been created by others' labor." Jewish Currents

"[This book's] brilliant dissection of where the rich get their wealth from, and how they seek to justify it, ought to be required reading for anyone seeking to understand what is wrong with our problem-filled world." Noel Castree, Progress in Human Geography

"This is a quietly angry book, full of facts and figures that show the rich to be a major cause of the inequality that Wilkinson and Pickett revealed in their book The Spirit Level and of the injustice that Danny Dorling described in his book Injustice." Citizen's Income Trust

"This is a powerful book deserving a wide readership." People, Place and Policy

"The value of Sayer's account lies in his readable and persuasive attack on the idea that the very richest have accumulated their wealth fairly and deserve to be allowed to accumulate more." The London School of Economics and Political Science

"Packed with useful information and insights, this is a useful complement to Thomas Pikkety’s Capital in the Twenty First Century, and makes a serious challenge to the many claims propagated by rich people and their minions." Tax Justice Network

"A timely and insightful guide to how the rich managed top shape a language and political agenda that suited their purposes just perfectly." Tax Justice Focus

"Sayer shows compellingly...just how much tolerating grand accumulations of private wealth is costing us." Too Much.

"Why We Can't Afford the Rich presents a nuanced, well-formed vision, which speaks from the perspective of a moral economy." Marx & Philosophy Review of Books.

"This timely and important book exposes the pernicious influence of the super rich on our economic and social fabric. It underlines the need for radical action to redistribute wealth, rebalance our economy and tackle inequality. A must read for politicians and policymakers alike" Frances O'Grady, TUC General Secretary

"Sayer's penetrating analysis of asset-based unearned income is a powerful case for socialism, supporting as he does land nationalisation and the creation of banks with the remit to lend for productive investment in ethical and environmentally sustainable business." Morning Star

"Sayer proceeds with arguments that are internally coherent and does not invent economic mechanisms in the way that populists often do, never forgetting that cake-making must come before cake distribution." The Times Literary Supplement

"Sayer does an impressive job of bringing home to the reader the scale of the threat capitalism now poses to humanity. As an introduction to critical political economy, the book is one of the best available." Counterfire

"Adds to the growing body of work that challenges mainstream economic thinking and traditional self-justifications for inequality." New Left Project

"Sayer puts forth a cogent and thoroughly convincing argument that will enlighten and inform—and may even help instigate the radical changes he puts forth." Publishers Weekly

"A refreshing antidote to a public discourse that has allowed the perpetrators of the financial crisis to make massive gains, while the full burden of costs falls on those innocent of its causes. A must-read for all those who want to reverse that injustice and a wake-up call for the rich." Ann Pettifor, Director, Prime: Policy research in macroeconomics

“Unmatched in persuasive argument and compelling illustrations, Andrew Sayer shows how the rich and the super-rich are destroying not just the economy but the planet too. Everyone should read Why we can’t afford the rich and spread the word.” Michael Burawoy, University of California, Berkeley

"Cuts through the hype so often used to defend growing inequality and gets to the core of the problem, with suggestions about where solutions may come from." Danny Dorling, University of Oxford

Andrew Sayer is Professor of Social Theory and Political Economy at Lancaster University, UK. He has a long-standing interest in moral economy and has written several books on political economy, inequality, class, and philosophy and ethics, including Radical Political Economy: A Critique (Blackwell, 1995); The Moral Significance of Class (2005) and Why Things Matter to People: Social Science, Values and Ethical Life (2011) (both Cambridge University Press).


Part I: A Guide to Wealth Extraction;

Slippery Terms and Vital Distinctions;

For rent . . . for what?;

Interest . . . for what? or We need to talk about usury;

Profit from production: or capitalists and rentiers: what’s the difference?;

Other ways to skin a cat;

Don’t the Rich Create Jobs? – and other objections;

Part II: Putting the Rich in Context: What Determines What People Get?;

To what do we owe our wealth?: Our dependence on the commons;

So what determines pay?;

The myth of the level playing field;

Part III: How the Rich Got Richer: Their Part in the Crisis;

The roots of the crisis;

Key winners;

Summing up: the crisis and the return of the rentiers;

Part IV: Rule by the Rich, for the Rich;

Silent power, pol donations lattice of influence;

Hiding it;

Illegal? + poachers;

What about philanthropy?;


Part V: Ill-gotten and Ill-spent: From Consumption to Ill-Being and CO2;

Spending it;

Global warming trumps everything;

Conclusion: back to basics – what kind of economy do we need?.