Sunday, August 04, 2013

What an answer...  

Could look like. Will Wilkinson, one of my favorite libertarian writers responds to a one-sided post by Jonathon Chait and near the end hits a nerve with me.
That said, it remains that egalitarian anti-corporatism is a genuinely excellent, genuinely egalitarian idea. I would prefer to see it combined with a really solid scheme of social insurance. But we never see this combination because neither party is interested in it. Many Democratic partisans are even less interested in anti-cronyism than many Republicans, unless they think it will hurt Republican fund-raising, and that just goes to show that Democratic egalitarianism is as opportunistic and superficial as the Republican love of liberty. The Democratic Party is as bound up with corporate interests no less, or not much less, than the GOP. Yet Mr Chait says that "Pretending Democrats are actually succoring elites is a handy way for [advocates of conservative populism] to avoid grappling with the central issue", which is that Republicans don't like downward redistribution. Mr Chait apparently cannot see that Democrats do succor elites, that our political system is finely tuned so that the succoring will continue no matter who is in power. Moreover, all the deeper mechanisms that generate and reproduce America's peculiar patterns of income and wealth—the definition of intellectual-property rights, the structure and governance of corporations, the marginalisation and persecution of undocumented workers, the de facto apartheid of America's systems of criminal justice and public education, the evolution of family structure—seems to lack reality in Mr Chait's mind, perhaps because none affords an obvious angle for partisan electoral advantage. Rather than get bogged down in all this tricky stuff, Mr Chait prefers to reduce the whole question of inequality, of economic populism—of American politics altogether!—to a single issue, progressive redistribution, on which Democratic electoral interest and moral self-satisfaction happen to comfortably intersect. Democrats most certainly do succor elites, and this sort of glib self-righteousness about inequality is one of the ways they do it. [More]
This is where the gap between what I used to believe 10 years ago and today probably is the greatest. I have come to the realization that our system inherently marches toward lop-sided wealth and well-being distributions if left unsupervised, so to speak.

Reversing our slide to near feudal wealth distribution will be difficult, I fear. And while I find that condition morally repugnant, the bigger issue could be it causes our USA-type economy to breakdown

It appears there are many ways to categorize the two main lumps in our current wealth/income distribution accounting:
  • Takers - makers
  • Spenders - savers
  • Consumers - investors
It is this last dichotomy that uncovers the issue for me. Even if we simply stipulate that the wealthy are entitled to the fruits of their labor, or more likely their capital, when the returns come rolling in they invest, not spend. After all, they can only spend so much and can only marginally improve an already comfortable lifestyle.

This is why, unlike many ag economists, I don't see land prices swooning. Even with lower income from farming, there is little reason to shift these illiquid assets into something else, and even less urgency. Farmland sales will slow to a crawl perhaps, but there is so much wealth in the hands of investors vs. consumers that any quality asset will hold and even attract more. 

Wealth is piling up in the hands of non-spenders. While I agree saving is a virtue, postponing consumption for a greater benefit in the future is clearly more virtuous for those in the middle or lower levels than it is for the rich. Saving for them is merely not troubling to do anything else.

But without consumers/spenders won't our economy slog along? That seems to be what we're seeing. Companies are not hoarding cash because of Obamacare, regulations, or taxes. The simply don't see enough demand to warrant a new factory or more workers.

Meanwhile, trillions rush into any investment that seems to offer non-zero returns. If you think it's bad now wait until the income/wealth ratios get even more extreme. 

My view on wealth distribution amazingly is not a particularly extreme position because most Americans 1) don't know how lop-sided things are and 2) agree it should be less so.

 But danged if I can discover any reliable mechanism to alter the trends. The last time we saw a "great leveling" was WWII, and that seems to a rather drastic option. Hence my lesser of evils is to see a stronger safety net, which should resonate with farmers, I would think.

Wilkinson apparently agrees, which comforts me I haven't drifted too far off the planet in my fantasies. But like me, he stuggles to see how our political system and economic obliviousness will make changes possible.

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