Article 43


Thursday, May 24, 2012

Engineered Inequality


Jacob Hacker & Paul Pierson on Engineered Inequality

Bill Moyers
March 1, 2012

In this show segment, Moyers & Company dives into one of the most important and controversial issues of our time: How Washington and Big Business colluded to make the super-rich richer and turn their backs on the rest of us.

Bills guests - Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, authors of Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer And Turned Its Back on the Middle Class, argue that America’s vast inequality is no accident, but in fact has been politically engineered.

How, in a nation as wealthy as America, can the economy simply stop working for people at large, while super-serving those at the very top? Through exhaustive research and analysis, the political scientists Hacker and Pierson whom Bill regards as the “Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson of economics” detail important truths behind a 30-year economic assault against the middle class.

Whos the culprit? “American politics did it far more than we would have believed when we started this research,” Hacker explains. “What government has done and not done, and the politics that produced it, is really at the heart of the rise of an economy that has showered huge riches on the very, very, very well off.”

Bill considers their book the best hes seen detailing “how politicians rewrote the rules to create a winner-take-all economy that favors the 1% over everyone else, putting our once and future middle class in peril.”



Absurdity, if not piggishness, from the super-rich

Hank Banta offers an arithmetic lesson for Edward Conard, the former Bain executive who says the gigantic distortion in income in America is good and proper. Banta also urges the press to note the absurdity of the claim and, for once, use some intelligent judgment in writing instead of sticking to false ideas of ‘balance.’

By Henry Bantha
Nieman Watchdog
May 15, 2012

The latest blast of nonsense about the INEQUALITY ISSUE provides a marvelous opportunity to watch how far the media will go to provide “balance” in discussing the issue.

The current opportunity for hopelessly inappropriate “balance” is provided by Edward Conard, a former Bain Capital executive, who is promoting his book championing the increasing fortunes of the super rich - EVERYTHING YOU’VE BEEN TOLD ABOUT THE ECONOMY IS WRONG.

His basic point is that the super rich got their wealth because they “earned” it. Classic economic theory asserts that free markets reward participants precisely in proportion to what they contribute. The rich are rewarded because they took risks, invested in productive businesses and the economic system properly rewarded them. And, miraculously, we are all better off and should show some gratitude.

There is a FACTUAL DEFECT in this argument. The gigantic DISTORTION of income to the very top is not explained by reward for risk. Rather (as SHOWN by Mishel and Sabadish,) it is a matter of wages going to corporate and financial executives. As a group these are better known for putting others at risk, not themselves. But for the moment set aside this factual issue. Further, set aside whether Mr. Conards simplistic economics really applies in this context and simply accept its premises and examine his use of it. When we take his argument on his own terms we find a remarkable inconsistency.

Mr. Conard takes the notion that free markets reward participants in proportion to their contribution and uses it to justify only the massive shift of income to the very rich. He ignores what happens if he applied his economic theory to everyone else in the economy. He simply doesn’t deal with the obvious corollary to his classic economics: If the rich got that way because they deserved it, then the middle class, with its stagnant income and declining share of the economic pie, also got just exactly what they deserved. This corollary is insanely obvious. To deny it is like claiming 2 + 2 = 4 and then denying that 4 - 2 = 2.

In simple terms the logic of Mr. Conards economics requires us to conclude that virtually, if not all, of the economic gain of the last several decades is attributable to the heroic efforts of less than 1 percent of the population. And the efforts of the entire middle class - engineers, software designers, computer technicians, physicians, teachers, construction workers, auto workers, etc.  contributed next to nothing. A proposition that most would find patently absurd.

Indeed, as Paul Krugman recently pointed out, Conard֒s thesis collapses in the face of history. In the 1950s and 60s the top 0.01 percent got only a fifth of the share it gets today. Yet this was the best period of economic and productivity growth of the past century.

Between 1979 and 2007 almost 60 percent of the gains in income went the top 1 percent, and 36 percent went to the top 0.01 percent. Only 8.6 went to the bottom 90 percent. The very modest gain for the median worker of only 11 percent hardly reflects the over 80 percent gain in the economyђs productivity between 1973 and 2011. It is also notable that in 2011 corporate CEO compensation was 380 times the average workers pay. In 1980 it had been a modest 42 times. These are the kind of numbers that in the past we associated with third world countries that lacked the blessing of a market economy. Indeed the United States is now ranked on the basis of the Gini coefficient a statistical measure of inequality - between Bulgaria and Guyana and in the same neighborhood as Iran and Uganda. The notion that a fair and efficient market got us to this position deserves some very critical examination.

To be fair, Mr. Conard does put some blame on the middle class for failing to produce enough risk-taking entrepreneurs. But while more middle class entrepreneurs might have added a few more to the ranks of the super rich, they could hardly have raised the fortunes of the entire middle class, much less have provided a reason for discounting the efforts of their remaining colleagues.

Obviously one reason that Mr. Conard and his allies do not mention the corollary to their thesis is that it undercuts their defense of the super rich. But Mr. Conard (not to mention his fellow alumnus from Bain, Mitt Romney) have another reason for not talking about how his economics applies to the middle class: It would be political madness.

If politicians started their discussion of inequality with the proposition that the middle class deserved only what they got they would never get to make their next point. One could only imagine what would happen if Mr. Romney told his Tea Party supporters that their modest economic gains of the last thirty years represented all that their collective efforts were worth. Its a fair guess they’d take it badly.

What is really remarkable about this debate is that, while Mr. Conard and company have some real incentives for not discussing the logical implications of their economic theory, editors and reporters have no such excuses. Any failure to address the application of the theory to the middle class can only be explained by the pervasive attitude that virtually any factual claim, no matter how insane must, in the interest of equal-handedness, be treated as plausible as long as it is uttered by someone important. 

This is a good issue on which to draw the line. Enough of this myopic even-handedness. The next public figure who incants the they-got-it-because-they deserved-it formula and leaves out its logical implications should be treated as if he had claimed the moon was made of green cheese. And any journalist who repeats it without pointing out its absurd implications should be not only summarily drummed out of the profession but dismissed from the company of rational and responsible adults.


Posted by Elvis on 05/24/12 •
Section Dying America
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