Tag Archives: Inequality

America is Regressing into a Developing Nation for Most People


The Vanishing Middle Class: Prejudice and Power in a Dual Economy, Author: Peter Temin.

By Lynn Parramore – America is not one country anymore. It is becoming two, each with vastly different resources, expectations, and fates.

In one of these countries live members of what Temin calls the “FTE sector” (named for finance, technology, and electronics, the industries which largely support its growth). These are the 20 percent of Americans who enjoy college educations, have good jobs, and sleep soundly knowing that they have not only enough money to meet life’s challenges, but also social networks to bolster their success.

They grow up with parents who read books to them, tutors to help with homework, and plenty of stimulating things to do and places to go. They travel in planes and drive new cars. The citizens of this country see economic growth all around them and exciting possibilities for the future. They make plans, influence policies, and count themselves as lucky to be Americans.

The FTE citizens rarely visit the country where the other 80 percent of Americans live: the low-wage sector.

Here, the world of possibility is shrinking, often dramatically. People are burdened with debt and anxious about their insecure jobs if they have a job at all.

Many of them are getting sicker and dying younger than they used to. They get around by crumbling public transport and cars they have trouble paying for. Family life is uncertain here; people often don’t partner for the long-term even when they have children. If they go to college, they finance it by going heavily into debt. They are not thinking about the future; they are focused on surviving the present. The world in which they reside is very different from the one they were taught to believe in.

While members of the first country act, these people are acted upon.

Temin uses a famous economic model created to understand developing nations to describe how far inequality has progressed in the United States. For the first time, this model is applied with systematic precision to the U.S.

The result is profoundly disturbing. more>

updates from Chicago Booth

Why it’s so hard to simplify the tax code
By Dee Gill – Simplifying the tax code ostensibly has bipartisan backing. Both the Bush and Obama administrations advocated for simplification, in reports, as have House Speaker Paul Ryan (Republican of Wisconsin) and Senator Elizabeth Warren (Democrat of Massachusetts). But when the Senate passed a tax bill this past December, there was no postcard.

What happened? The same thing that always does, suggest researchers. While simplicity is a stated goal, complexity wins the day. Hence companies and individuals will hire accountants to wade through the latest bill, interpret the new rules, offer guidance, and help work through the inevitable corrections and amendments.

And this comes at an economic cost. Research by James Mahon and Chicago Booth’s Eric Zwick, and others, collectively indicates that the complexity leads individuals and companies to fail to take advantage of billions of dollars in offered breaks, many of them presumably intended to stimulate the economy. In this way, complexity undermines what tax incentives are purported to accomplish. more>


Europe’s Poor Need More Than Jobs

By Ive Marx – The idea that – to use a ubiquitous political slogan – “the best protection against poverty is a job” remains the mantra in the corridors of power right across Europe and indeed in Brussels. It is, alas, more tenet of faith than a statement of fact.

Unfortunately, things are not as simple. Employment growth never yielded the hoped-for reductions in poverty in the past (see here). There is no reason to expect that things will turn out any different this time.

First, many of the poor live in households where no adult has a job. Such “jobless households” often face severe financial hardship, including any children. In the past, employment growth never produced anywhere near commensurate drops in household jobless rates. Instead it tended to boost the number of double- or multi-earner households.

A second reason why more people in work does not automatically bring less poverty is that getting a job may not be enough for a household to escape poverty. Long considered a typically American phenomenon, there is now ample evidence that the “working poor” are to be found in significant numbers in every European country.

In conclusion: it is time to remind Europe’s politicians of the promises they made to bring poverty down. They seem to think that Europe’s buoyant labor markets will do the job. They will not. more>

Why Amartya Sen remains the century’s great critic of capitalism


The Moral Economists: R H Tawney, Karl Polanyi, E P Thompson and the Critique of Capitalism, Author: Tim Rogan.

By Tim Rogan – Critiques of capitalism come in two varieties. First, there is the moral or spiritual critique. This critique rejects Homo economicus as the organizing heuristic of human affairs. Human beings, it says, need more than material things to prosper. Calculating power is only a small part of what makes us who we are. Moral and spiritual relationships are first-order concerns. Material fixes such as a universal basic income will make no difference to societies in which the basic relationships are felt to be unjust.

Then there is the material critique of capitalism. The economists who lead discussions of inequality now are its leading exponents. Homo economicus is the right starting point for social thought. We are poor calculators and single-minded, failing to see our advantage in the rational distribution of prosperity across societies. Hence inequality, the wages of ungoverned growth. But we are calculators all the same, and what we need above all is material plenty, thus the focus on the redress of material inequality. From good material outcomes, the rest follows.

But then there is Amartya Sen. Every major work on material inequality in the 21st century owes a debt to Sen.

But his own writings treat material inequality as though the moral frameworks and social relationships that mediate economic exchanges matter. Famine is the nadir of material deprivation.

But it seldom occurs – Sen argues – for lack of food.

To understand why a people goes hungry, look not for catastrophic crop failure; look rather for malfunctions of the moral economy that moderates competing demands upon a scarce commodity. Material inequality of the most egregious kind is the problem here. more>

Post-Davos Depression

By Joseph E. Stiglitz – I’ve been attending the World Economic Forum’s annual conference in Davos, Switzerland – where the so-called global elite convenes to discuss the world’s problems – since 1995. Never have I come away more dispirited than I have this year.

The world is plagued by almost intractable problems. Inequality is surging, especially in the advanced economies. The digital revolution, despite its potential, also carries serious risks for privacy, security, jobs, and democracy – challenges that are compounded by the rising monopoly power of a few American and Chinese data giants, including Facebook and Google. Climate change amounts to an existential threat to the entire global economy as we know it.

Perhaps more disheartening than such problems, however, are the responses.

But, by the end of their speeches this year, any remaining illusion about the values motivating Davos CEOs was shattered. The risk that these CEOs seemed most concerned about is the populist backlash against the kind of globalization that they have shaped – and from which they have benefited immensely.

They may lack the candor of Michael Douglas’s character in the 1987 movie Wall Street, but the message hasn’t changed: “Greed is good.” What depresses me is that, though the message is obviously false, so many in power believe it to be true. more>

The consequences of increasing concentration and decreasing competition—and how to remedy them

By William A. Galston and Clara Hendrickson – Our paper, “A policy at peace with itself: Antitrust remedies for our concentrated, uncompetitive economy,” shows why antitrust has become an object of public concern and documents the urgent need to reform antitrust enforcement, which has failed, in recent years, to stem rising concentration and prevent declining competition.

Not only are today’s firms astoundingly profitable, they are persistently profitable. While a profitable American firm in the 1990s had a 50 percent chance of finding itself similarly successful 10 years on, a very profitable American firm today enjoys over an 80 percent chance.

That persistently high profits remain unchallenged suggests many firms may be receiving a return on market power.

Under-enforcement has harmed consumers as many mergers have led to higher prices. Declining competition has also resulted in rising inequality as inter-firm earnings disparities deepen the economic divide among workers. more>

When Welfare Sabotages Lives


Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much, Authors: Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir.

By Ngaire Woods – The first lesson is that people – rich and poor – often make bad choices when they lack a key resource, like money or time. For example, ruinously expensive “payday loans” can be appealing to cash-strapped borrowers, even if the terms of these loans tend to push people deeper into debt.

This is not because people lack education. But poor decisions can result from conditions of scarcity and stress.

Britain’s new program was championed as a way to reduce costs and incentivize better decisions, thereby moving more people into work and reducing benefit claims. But, so far, there is little evidence to support this rosy scenario.

By reducing benefits received by the poor, the government is ensuring that scarcity surges and poor decisions multiply. And by changing the system frequently and making it more complicated to access, Britain’s leaders are also forcing the poor to consume more mental bandwidth. Taken together, these factors are leaving welfare recipients worse off. <a href="http://Britain’s new program was championed as a way to reduce costs and incentivize better decisions, thereby moving more people into work and reducing benefit claims. But, so far, there is little evidence to support this rosy scenario.

By reducing benefits received by the poor, the government is ensuring that scarcity surges and poor decisions multiply. And by changing the system frequently and making it more complicated to access, Britain’s leaders are also forcing the poor to consume more mental bandwidth. Taken together, these factors are leaving welfare recipients worse off." more>

The Case Against Free-Market Capitalism

By Ngaire Woods – Free-market capitalism is on trial.

Just a quarter-century ago, the debate about economic systems – state-managed socialism or liberal democracy and capitalism – seemed to have been settled. With the Soviet Union’s collapse, the case was closed – or so it seemed.

Since then, the rise of China has belied the view that a state-led strategy will always fail, and the global financial crisis exposed the perils of inadequately regulated markets. In 2017, few of the world’s fastest-growing economies (Ethiopia, Uzbekistan, Nepal, India, Tanzania, Djibouti, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, and the Philippines) have free markets. And many free-market economies are suffering from growth slowdowns and rapidly rising inequality.

The conservative case, eloquently articulated by Theresa May, is that a free-market economy, operating under the right rules and regulations, is the greatest agent of collective human progress ever created. If that claim is true, the only logical conclusion is that we are doing it wrong.

So what measures are needed to get it right? more> https://goo.gl/ioQAAD

Citizens’ Wealth Fund To Tackle Inequality

By Stewart Lansley – The 20th century trend to greater wealth equality is now in reverse. Wealth is much more unequally distributed than incomes. Capital ownership is even more concentrated—so much for a share owning democracy.

Because of such concentration, the considerable returns from wealth (in dividends, rent and interest) accrue disproportionally to the already rich. The more wealth booms at the top, the more it undermines the life chances of those left out of the party. Moreover, because of rolling privatization, wealth is increasingly privately owned. Today, the public holds only a little over a tenth of total wealth, well down on the post-war decades.

Tackling these issues requires some big policy shifts. First, the level of taxation on wealth needs to rise. Wealth is hugely undertaxed compared with income: the combined revenue from existing capital taxes accounts for less than one per cent of total economic output. To spread capital ownership, we need to expand the role of alternative business models—from partnerships to co-operatives—which distribute economic gains more equally. more> https://goo.gl/RuUSFz

Updates from Chicago Booth

What has happened over the past 40 years in the United States, particularly in cities?
By Veronica Guerrieri – It is well known that the US has experienced a large increase in income inequality, which, in my view, is one of the biggest problems of the US economy. At the same time, there has been an increase in neighborhood segregation, especially in larger cities: the rich are more and more concentrated in rich neighborhoods and the poor in poor neighborhoods. Alessandra Fogli of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis and I document a strong correlation between inequality and residential segregation.

The data show that cities with more segregation have a bigger education gap between the children of rich and poor families—and have less intergenerational mobility, which measures how hard it is to become rich if your parents are poor. In rich neighborhoods, it’s easier for kids to get a good education, and the return on education is higher. There are better schools, parents invest more in after-school activities, and there are stronger peers. This means that segregation amplifies inequality. At the same time, inequality increases segregation because richer people are happy to pay more to live in better neighborhoods. more> https://goo.gl/Qxi1wD