BUILDING WEALTH: The New Asset-Based Approach to Solving Social and Economic Problems

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BUILDING WEALTH: The New Asset-Based Approach to Solving Social and Economic Problems Edited by the Democracy Collaborative at the University of Maryland 210 pages (Aspen, Colo.: The Aspen Institute, 2005)

The Democracy Collaborative's useful primer examines the reach and impact of individual, community, and government wealth-building initiatives to promote social and economic justice. In only 121 pages (plus an expansive and excellent bibliography), senior research associate Steve Dubb, the principal author, and his colleagues offer a succinct and dispassionate definition of each of several asset-based strategies.

Among the strategies described in the book are individual development accounts, which match the savings of low-income people with philanthropic or government funds. There are also an unidentified number of "social enterprises" that make money and pursue social missions. Add to that community-development corporations that revitalize urban and rural communities by producing affordable housing as well as commercial and industrial space. And community-development financial institutions - including community-development banks, credit unions, loan funds, and venture capital funds - that support underserved minority communities.

The Democracy Collaborative's cogent, albeit cursory, treatment of these and other complex development catalysts should be commended for calling policymakers' attention to untapped opportunities to create and protect jobs, and to help fund community services. Yet the book's subtitle, The New Asset-Based Approach to Solving Social and Economic Problems, overpromises. The authors' views are not innovative, nor do they present a cohesive strategy to redress social wrongs or achieve economic justice.

Mr. Dubb and company acknowledge, in a thoughtful epilogue, that there is more work to be done. …