Book of the week: Trust people to make their own decisions

Book review: Fair Shot: Rethinking Inequality and How We EarnA book from a Facebook co-founder proposing a basic income that breaks the mould.


Published by Bloomsbury, £12.99

Buy at Amazon

Books by entrepreneurs and captains of industry are usually written (or more accurately, ghost written) in order to flatter a tycoon's ego or as a public-relations exercise. Rarely do they have something significant to say. Chris Hughes's Fair Shot: Rethinking Inequality and How We Earn is an exception. Although Hughes earned hundreds of millions of dollars from his role asco-founder of Facebook, he admits that his success was down to good luck more than anything else: he was Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's roommate, and lived at a time where a "winner takes all" global economy ensured that a small elite were showered with riches, while average wages stagnated.

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Given this, it is only fair, he argues, that these lucky few pay a little bit more in tax so that the rest of society can benefit as well. Rather than proposing complicated government programmes, however, Hughes thinks the fairest solution would be for the government to trust people to make their own decision by guaranteeing everyone a basic income. He acknowledges that anything perceived as "rewarding idleness" might be politically difficult to sell. He therefore promises a more limited version targeted at those who have worked in the past tax year and earned less than $50,000.

Hughes was badly burned when he tried to turn around the august political magazine The New Republic, only to end up losing a lot of money while alienating almost the entire staff. As he acknowledges, it would have been better for him to have set up an endowment to fund the magazine's long-term survival, instead of trying to impose grandiose schemes. This experience has conditioned him to approach the campaign for a basic income in a more cautious way, and he is careful not to oversell the idea, or appear too much like an American Bob Geldof.

Paradoxically, this restraint makes his arguments a lot more convincing than more wild-eyed advocates of the idea, such as Rutger Bregman (whose book Utopia For Realists we reviewed in March 2017).As Hughes explains in his book, the idea of providing a basic income for all without precondition has been trialled on many occasions, with some success. Indeed, the US state of Alaska already operates a stripped-down basic-income scheme in that every resident gets a cheque from its oil fund.

This is a strong, punchy book, a cut above the platitudinous puff pieces business leaders typically produce. While the controversy over "fake news" has effectively killed off Zuckerberg's political pretensions, Hughes has advanced the debate over how to address both inequality and the longer-term threat of automation creating a world without work.

Dr Matthew Partridge

Matthew graduated from the University of Durham in 2004; he then gained an MSc, followed by a PhD at the London School of Economics.

He has previously written for a wide range of publications, including the Guardian and the Economist, and also helped to run a newsletter on terrorism. He has spent time at Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and the consultancy Lombard Street Research.

Matthew is the author of Superinvestors: Lessons from the greatest investors in history, published by Harriman House, which has been translated into several languages. His second book, Investing Explained: The Accessible Guide to Building an Investment Portfolio, is published by Kogan Page.

As senior writer, he writes the shares and politics & economics pages, as well as weekly Blowing It and Great Frauds in History columns He also writes a fortnightly reviews page and trading tips, as well as regular cover stories and multi-page investment focus features.

Follow Matthew on Twitter: @DrMatthewPartri