Daily Archives: April 27, 2014

Income (and wealth) inequality becoming a political issue

At long last, income inequality is becoming a mainstream political issue, thanks in large part to New York Times columnist Paul Krugman and Thomas Piketty, an obscure professor at the Paris School of Economics.

The English translation of Picketty’s new book Capital in the Twenty-First Centuryhas become a political bombshell especially since Krugman’s review of it appeared in New York Review of Books. Titled, Why We’re in a New Gilded Age, the review highlights Picketty’s research findings and political agenda.

As Krugman describes it, “The big idea of Capital in the Twenty-First Century is that we haven’t just gone back to nineteenth-century levels of income inequality, we’re also on a path back to ‘patrimonial capitalism,’ in which the commanding heights of the economy are controlled not by talented individuals but by family dynasties.” And in assessing the book, he calls it “a tour de force of economic modeling, an approach that integrates the analysis of economic growth with that of the distribution of income and wealth. This is a book that will change both the way we think about society and the way we do economics.”

Krugman concludes his review with this statement: “Piketty ends Capital in the Twenty-First Century with a call to arms—a call, in particular, for wealth taxes, global if possible, to restrain the growing power of inherited wealth. It’s easy to be cynical about the prospects for anything of the kind. But surely Piketty’s masterly diagnosis of where we are and where we’re heading makes such a thing considerably more likely. So Capital in the Twenty-First Century is an extremely important book on all fronts. Piketty has transformed our economic discourse; we’ll never talk about wealth and inequality the same way we used to.”

Now, Krugman has upped the ante with his April 24 editorial The Pikkety Panic, arguing that “..what’s really new about “Capital” is the way it demolishes that most cherished of conservative myths, the insistence that we’re living in a meritocracy in which great wealth is earned and deserved.” Krugman presents evidence to suggest that “conservatives are terrified” and in a panic to try to refute Pikkety’s inevitable conclusions, but failing to find substantive arguments, they have fallen back on name calling. If you can’t refute the facts, then try to discredit the source.

Summing up, Krugman says,

“Now, the fact that apologists for America’s oligarchs are evidently at a loss for coherent arguments doesn’t mean that they are on the run politically. Money still talks — indeed, thanks in part to the Roberts court, it talks louder than ever. Still, ideas matter too, shaping both how we talk about society and, eventually, what we do. And the Piketty panic shows that the right has run out of ideas.”

If that isn’t enough to make the political pot boil over, another newly published academic study, Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens finds that “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence. The results provide substantial support for theories of Economic Elite Domination and for theories of Biased Pluralism, but not for theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy or Majoritarian Pluralism.”

Of course, most activists and even ordinary people have known all that, but now that academia has taken notice and begun to present solid scientific evidence, the pressure on politicians to acknowledge these conditions and act on them will build more quickly.

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