The Trap

THE TRAP….Via email, Daniel Brook, author of The Trap: Selling Out to Stay Afloat in Winner-Take-All America, responds to my post about the book from earlier this week:


I’m often accused of being old-fashioned. I have the crazy notion that being a teacher or a district attorney is a real career that should provide enough for a middle-class life. And I still believe when people review books, they should have read them first.

I don’t mind in the slightest Washington Monthly writer Doron Taussig making a few criticisms of my book in his thoughtful review, but I do mind Kevin Drum spouting off in a “review of the review.”

What really irked me was Drum’s “color me unconvinced” comment. Well, of course, a reviewer will be unconvinced by a book if he hasn’t extended the author the chance to convince him by actually reading the book! Had Drum read The Trap, he would have learned facts like these:

  1. In 1972, starting salaries at Manhattan corporate law firms were $16,000 while the federal government offered its newly minted lawyers $13,300 and Legal Aid of New York paid $12,500. Today, the public sector/private sector salary gap is $100,000 as shown by the latest figures from the National Association of Law Placement.

  2. The teacher-lawyer comparison is similar: In 1970, starting New York City teachers made just $2,000 less than starting Wall Street lawyers. They now make $100,000 less. Today, teacher-headed households are priced out of more than 90% of the region’s census tracts.

  3. In 1980, the City of Chicago paid its starting teachers $13,770, more than two and a half times the annual tuition at the University of Chicago. Today, U of C tuition is almost equal to teacher pay, tuition having tripled in real dollars in a generation.

All I’m saying is that these considerations change the math of choosing a public service career and thus route talent in certain ways. As a progressive, I’m concerned that these are not ways that are most beneficial to society and, as I show in the book, many of the people routed this way feel “trapped” rather than liberated.

I don’t ask that reviewers agree with me, but I do ask that they withhold judgment until they read the book.