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‘Just desert’ and neoclassical income distribution theory

June 29, 2014 5 comments

from Lars Syll

Walked-out Harvard economist Greg Mankiw has more than once tried to defend the 0.1 % by invoking Adam Smith’s invisible hand:

[B]y delivering extraordinary performances in hit films, top stars may do more than entertain millions of moviegoers and make themselves rich in the process. They may also contribute many millions in federal taxes, and other millions in state taxes. And those millions help fund schools, police departments and national defense for the rest of us …

[T]he richest 1 percent aren’t motivated by an altruistic desire to advance the public good. But, in most cases, that is precisely their effect.

negotiation1When reading Mankiw’s articles on the “just desert” of the 0.1 % one gets a strong feeling that Mankiw is really trying to argue that a market economy is some kind of moral free zone where, if left undisturbed, people get what they “deserve.”

Where does this view come from? Most neoclassical economists actually have a more or less Panglossian view on unfettered markets, but maybe Mankiw has also read neoliberal philosophers like Robert Nozick or David Gauthier. The latter writes in his Morals by Agreement:

The rich man may feast on caviar and champagne, while the poor woman starves at his gate. And she may not even take the crumbs from his table, if that would deprive him of his pleasure in feeding them to his birds.

Now, compare that unashamed neoliberal apologetics with what three truly great economists and liberals — John Maynard Keynes, Amartya Sen and Robert Solow — have to say on the issue: Read more…

US poverty rate, actual and simulated, 1959 – 2012 (graph)

from David Ruccio

poverty rate

One of the points Thomas Piketty makes in his new book is that mainstream economists enshrined as “laws” of capitalist development certain “facts” that only had relevance during the immediate postwar decades. Read more…

More effective remedies for inequality than Piketty’s

April 19, 2014 28 comments

from Geoff Davies

I have read only reviews of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century, but clearly it is valuable for documenting the nature and history of inequality over the past century or three, and for highlighting the excessive political power that flows from super-wealth.  Yet he frames it in terms of capital and capitalism and, for all the quality of his diagnosis, his main prescription evidently is just to tax the wealthy, through income and inheritance taxes.

The trouble is, capital and capitalism are very ill-defined.  To speak of capitalism is to invite an un-constructive shouting match.  Capitalism has caused great harm to people and the world!  Yes but capitalism is what has made us rich!

A more useful framing is that there have been, and can be, many ways to structure a market economy.  When one looks into the mechanisms that have operated in market economies, one can readily identify mechanisms that pump wealth from the 99% to the 1%.  One can then think of ways to stop or reverse these flows, so wealth flows more fairly to everyone involved in its generation.  It will be much more effective to fix the problems at the source than just to apply traditional retro-active bandaids like taxes.

In my own book Sack the Economists, I identified seven fairly obvious such mechanisms.  Below is an edited excerpt that summarises mechanisms identified in the course of the book’s analyses.  (Dean Baker has also made lists, short and longer, which are a little more detailed and only partly overlapping with mine.) Read more…

Collective bargaining and poverty reduction: OECD data

February 16, 2014 Leave a comment

from Jim Stanford

My union Unifor is currently undertaking an important “Rights at Work” campaign, which involves a national tour of meetings with our officers and local leaders and stewards, followed by a membership canvass and community outreach effort, all aimed at beating back the current attack on fundamental labour rights coming from conservatives at all levels in Canada.  So far the campaign has had a very strong reception.  Ontario will be a key battleground, of course, since the future of the Rand Formula will be decided in the next election (as early as this spring), but similar attacks on labour rights are being experienced at the federal level and in many other provinces.

A key argument in winning this battle will be showing how important unions and collective bargaining are to the health of broader society.  This helps to defeat conservative attempts to portray organized labour as self-interested and removed from the overall workforce.  In our materials and presentations we have been marshalling arguments to show that unions lift up wages, standards, and security for all workers, not just their own members, through their influence on the actions of non-union employers, their influence on policy and politics, and their ability to provide a collective voice for workers’ interests on all issues.

The powerpoint show we are presenting on our leadership tour makes many of these arguments.  In our internal dress rehearsals, however, my colleague Jordan Brennan suggested that a graph comparing poverty or inequality rates across countries, and linking those differences to unionization, might help tell the story.  He was right, and we included a simple scatter plot in our show, which has consequently generated many inquiries.  So I will use this blog entry to describe the data more fully and formally, and consider its implications.  Read more…

Categories: income inequality

Technology didn’t kill middle class jobs, public policy did

November 30, 2013 16 comments

from Dean Baker

A widely held view in elite circles is that the rapid rise in inequality in the United States over the last three decades is an unfortunate side-effect of technological progress. In this story, technology has had the effect of eliminating tens of millions of middle wage jobs for factor workers, bookkeepers, and similar occupations.

These were jobs where people with limited education used to be able to raise a family with a middle class standard of living. However computers, and now robots and other technological innovations are rapidly reducing the need for such work. As a result, the remaining jobs in these sectors are likely to pay less and many people who would have otherwise worked at middle wage jobs must instead crowd into the lower paying sector of the labor market.

This story is comforting to elites because it means that inequality is something that happened, not something they did. They won out because they had the skills and intelligence to succeed in a dynamic economy, whereas the huge mass of workers that are falling behind did not. In this story the best we can do for the left behinds is empathy and education. We can increase their opportunities to upgrade their skills in the hope that more of them may be able to join the winners.

That’s a nice story, but the evidence doesn’t support it.  Read more…

Categories: income inequality

Two American epochs: Growing Together 1947-1979 and Growing Apart 1979-2012 (charts)

October 16, 2013 3 comments

from David Ruccio

1947-1979 Read more…

Business schools and inequailty

September 21, 2013 3 comments

from Peter Radford

You may not be aware of the article that has created quite a storm on the New York Times website. It is about inequality at Harvard Business School and the insidious consequences of the emergence of a “class” system there.

Don’t laugh.

If HBS is now afflicted by class issues and the social disaster of inequality, then we can assume the rest of the country is in worse shape. HBS is, of course, partly responsible for the inequality we now suffer from through its relentless production of clever people with great connections who exploit finance and consulting without adding on offsetting social value.

Disclaimer: I graduated from HBS in 1979. Things seem to have changed enormously since I was there. Sure we had our contingent of super privileged kids, but the bulk of our class seemed to me to be from pretty ordinary backgrounds. The obnoxious oppression of class was largely absent. At least we could ignore the super wealthy and the quasi aristocrats because they were too few to have much impact.

Since then things have changed. Read more…

Income inequalities in 2007 compared to latest available year in 26 countries

June 27, 2013 2 comments

from David Ruccio

ILO-inequality

source

Note that the U.S. Gini coefficients—starting at 46.3 in 2007 and then rising to 47 in 2010 and 47.7 in 2011—literally don’t fit on the chart.

The kids will be rich, unless Peter Peterson’s kids take their money

March 6, 2013 2 comments

from Dean Baker

The Wall Street crew has been in high gear trying to convince the public that our children’s well-being is going to be threatened by their parents’ and grandparents’ Social Security. This story would be laughable except that it is endlessly repeated by people in positions of power and responsibility. For this reason it is worth going over the basic numbers yet again so that everyone knows that the people making these assertions are either ignorant or dishonest.

The basic point is that the economy gets more productive through time. This has been true for hundreds of years and no one has any good stories as to why it should not continue to be true long into the future.

Our measures of productivity growth are not very good for the years prior to World War II, but according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the 65 years since 1947 productivity growth has averaged 2.2 percent annually. There have been periods of more and less rapid growth. Read more…

In not Of?

February 7, 2013 4 comments

from Peter Radford

Today’s New York Times has a reminder of the damage the crisis has done to the economy, and, more importantly, to enduring attitudes towards opportunity. The article summarizes the results of a survey conducted by Rutgers University.

The main thrust of the article is that this crisis was both deep and broad enough to involve almost eighty percent of the population in one way or another. Unemployment and its awful effects were that widely felt. People’s lives were often ruined permanently. The entire trajectory of some people’s lives will be changed forever. The damage is incredible. The downdraft from Wall Street’s extraordinary greed driven stupidity caught almost all Americans and has left enormous psychological as well as material scars.

Yet we still have not dealt with the causes and have not undertaken strong remedial action.

Why not? Read more…

In the USA when income grows, who gains? 1976 – 2008 (chart)

December 19, 2012 12 comments

from David Ruccio

1976-2008

source

That’s right: 100 percent to the top 10 percent and zero for everyone else.

Categories: income inequality

World map comparing income inequality in the USA to other countries

August 21, 2012 2 comments

Global map of income inequality

August 20, 2012 6 comments

Percent of income earned by top 0.1 percent of taxpayers – 6 countries – chart

August 4, 2012 8 comments

from David Ruccio

Percent of Income Earned by Top 0.1 Percent of Taxpayers

source (missing years reflect lack of current data)

Raising the minimum wage is cheap and easy

July 25, 2012 3 comments

from Dean Baker

There are some policies that are pretty much no-brainers. We all agree that the Food and Drug Administration should keep dangerous drugs off the market. We all agree that the government should provide police and fire protection. And, we pretty much all agree that workers should be able to count on at least some minimal pay for a day’s work.

The minimum wage is non-controversial. The vast majority of people across the political spectrum support the minimum wage. In fact, one of the big accomplishments of the Gingrich Congress in 1996 was a 22 percent increase in the minimum wage. The only real issue is how high it should be. There are good reasons for believing that the minimum wage should be considerably higher than it is today. Read more…

Categories: income inequality

United States of low wages

April 24, 2012 7 comments

from David Ruccio

Read more…

Categories: income inequality, poverty

The bogus case against the minimum wage hike

January 5, 2012 4 comments

from Dean Baker

Eight states and one city (San Francisco) raised their minimum wage this week, providing a pay raise to just over 1 million workers. In the face of this good news, the opponents of the minimum wage are warning of serious job loss. They are likely to be proved wrong, yet again.

A simple Econ 101 story argues that a higher minimum wage will lead to fewer jobs for teenagers and other workers at the bottom rungs of the labor market. However, at this point a large body of research shows that increases in the minimum wage at the national, state and even local levels have not cost jobs. That may sound counterintuitive; after all, economists always say that when the price rises, demand falls. This should mean that with a higher minimum wage, employers will want fewer workers.

The real story, however, is somewhat more complex. Employers not only care about the wages they pay, they also care about workers’ productivity, and the rise in the pay by itself may cause workers to be more productive.  Read more…

David Brooks is projecting his self indulgence again

December 28, 2011 Leave a comment

from Dean Baker

Undoubtedly projecting from the fact that he can draw a nice 6-figure income for little obvious work, David Brooks complained in his column:

” Today, the country is middle-aged but self-indulgent. Bad habits have accumulated.”

For the most part the column is a confused diatribe against the Obama administration’s economic policies with a lecture on moral rectitude thrown in for good measure. He starts by condemning the efforts to stimulate the economy by telling readers: Read more…

The Supercommittee should go really big and turn against The One Percent

November 23, 2011 4 comments

from Dean Baker

It looks the supercommittee is about to throw in the towel. Since the potential deals that had been discussed would have meant large cuts to Social Security, Medicare and other programs that the 99 percent depend upon, we should all be thankful.

In the world of the 1 percent that the supercommittee types inhabit, the big villains in the U.S. economy are not the rich who are pulling down an ever-larger share of national income, but rather the country’s older workers.  Read more…

Crash Tax: Reparations to the 99%

November 16, 2011 5 comments

from Edward Fullbrook

With the continuing fallout from the Global Financial Collapse and the global upsurge of real democratic sentiments, support seems to be growing for a Tobin or financial transactions tax.  Yesterday AlterNet stated the case for it as follows.  

Wall Street caused the crash. It caused devastating unemployment. It exacerbated deficit problems in the United States, Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Italy. If the market hadn’t crashed, sustained higher tax revenues would have prevented these difficulties from intensifying.
……. 
The crash tax is, essentially, a sales tax on financial transactions. The middle class pays sales tax on all the stuff it purchases. There should be no special exceptions. The 1 percent should be paying sales tax on the purchase of risky derivatives and on bets that derivatives will fail. This is equity. This is simple fairness.  Read more…

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