Only the Rich Can Play: How Washington Works in the New Gilded Age

PublicAffairs. Oct. 2021. 352p. ISBN 9781541757196. $30. BUS
Wessel (economics, Brookings Inst.; In Fed We Trust) presents a detailed account of the Opportunity Zone (OZ) program, enacted by Congress in 2017, and a report on its results. The OZ program was largely the creation of Steve Parker, a founder of Facebook, who proposed that investors be given large tax breaks on capital gains in return for investing in low-income communities. Wessel shows how Parker and his allies sold politicians (Senator Tim Scott) and economists (Larry Summers; Edward Glaeser) on the idea. After OZ legislation passed in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, Wessel visited various cities including Portland, OR, and Baltimore to see its effects. He writes that some underserved people have benefited, for example through affordable housing, but some investments have gone to the rich rather than poor. Wessel concludes that investors in OZs have benefited from the tax break, but the program does not have sufficient safeguards to prevent abuse.
VERDICT Wessel has done a great deal of research and writes a fast-paced but careful account that is a major contribution to the study of the political process; readers interested in political science and economics will gain a great deal from it. Highly recommended.
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