Stiglitz argues that inequality is self-perpetuating, that it is produced by the vast amount of political power the wealthy hold to control legislative and regulatory activity. He does not believe that globalization and technological changes are at the heart of differences in wealth in the U.S. "While there may be underlying economic forces at play,” he writes, “politics have shaped the market, and shaped it in ways that advantage the top at the expense of the rest.” Stiglitz blames rent-seeking for causing the inequality, with the wealthy using their power to shape monopolies, incur favorable treatment by the government, and pay low taxes. The end result is not only morally wrong but also hurts the productivity in the economy.
Stiglitz criticizes many conservative commentators who believe free markets are the solution by pointing out that reducing the estate tax and deregulating campaign contributions act to restrict competition and give corporations undue power in politics. While he promotes the idea that a free market is good for society if it is competitive, he states that the government needs to regulate it to be beneficial. If that doesn't happen, the powerful corporations will use leverage to profit at the expense of the majority. According to Stiglitz, concentrating market power in too few hands is just as bad as excessive regulation.