Quick, Send for the Leeches!

There’s not much to this post, just a kneejerk reaction to the title of Joe Conason’s column, “Now We Know: Economic Inequality Is a Malady…”.

I hope I’ve made clear that I think that the sort of income inequality that we have increasingly in the United States isn’t consistent with the kind of country I want this country to be. If not, let me repeat it. If not, let me repeat it. There’s room in the kind of country I’d like the United States to be for a very small number of very rich people, especially the ultra-talented, ultra-hardworking, and ultra-lucky. The epitome that sort of individual would be some sports figures, e.g. Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods.

Most of the rest of the people should earn medium-sized incomes and the preponderance of the country’s wealth should be in the hands of people who earn such incomes, whom we refer to here as “middle class” although our social classes are very different than social classes as they exist in most of the rest of the world. That’s no fantasy. It’s what the United States was like when I was younger.

Aspirationally, I’d like us to think of each other as equals.

The awful thing about the discussion of income inequality Dr. Piketty’s work has inspired is that the prescriptions that are being offered won’t produce more income equality. In other words, they’re snake oil.

11 comments… add one

  • Guarneri

    ” In other words, they’re snake oil.”

    Well, yes they are. As I understand it Piketty’s work is a formidable piece of data compilation. Good for him. But that seems to be where it ends.

    I’m not sure I understand the bifurcation, Dave, (apparently, correct me if I’m wrong) between Michael Jordan and lesser souls. Its not a bright line distinction. He does what he does, or did, and Orlando Woolridge does what he did. They got appropriately different outcomes, in income and titles and respect.

    I haven’t done what Mitt Romney did. I have done financially very, very well, but not like Mitt Romney. But I didn’t create the same economic potential or produce the same economic results. So be it.

    I don’t envy or castigate Mitt Romney, I respect his body of work. And I’m comfortable with what I have done and gained. Woudth that others, including commenters here, would quit the whining about economic outcomes and get off their asses, take their chances, and produce……….not that I’m expecting it understand.

  • ...

    Yes, drew, I’ll take that spare quarter from the couch and start investing. Why, in a few centuries or so I’ll have it up to one hundred dollars or so!

    Just love how the rich always claim to be morally superior to the poor.

  • ...

    Also note that Drew is implicitly complaining about how awful things were for people such as himself back in the 1950s. Poor little rich boys didn’t get to keep everything, but were forced to share by that most communistic of all former American presidents, Eisenhower.

  • Ben Wolf

    I suspect Picketty’s solution is being hailed precisely because it could never work and will never happen. Progressives don’t want a reduction in inequality any more than conservatives do.

    We can go to back to Adam Smith and listen to him discussing precisely the same issues: that a high rate of profits typically results in suppressed wages and that corporate governance is greatly responsible for economic woe.

  • steve

    One step at a time. Too many folks still believe inequality really does not exist. The “they all have cell phones and TVs” argument gets made. Next, the argument is made that inequality does not matter. We just need to make government small enough that it cannot be influenced by wealth. Of course, that has never happened anywhere or anytime. If Piketty does nothing else than to convince people it is real and it is a problem, I will take that. As I have said, I think it may be too late for any policy response that I can think of, but maybe someone has an idea somewhere. Alternatively, maybe worries about killing the goose that lays the eggs sets in.

    Steve

  • ...

    Something I have stated before: As of March 2014 the US economy had 3,872,000 FEWER full time jobs than it had in November 2007. According to the Drew’s of the world, that is entirely the fault of the people that no longer work. After all, if we were worth a goddamn, we’d be out there producing.

    Here’s a list of productive people, who are all moral exemplars in the Drew-verse:

    Warren Buffet, who made a tidy profit off government bailouts;

    Vikram Pandit, who extracted something like $200,000,000 from CITI while CITI’s stock lost something like 93% of its value;

    Michael Milken, who famously earned $500,000,000 one year, back when $500,000,000 was a lot of money;

    Anthony Mozilo, who made a large fortune selling loans to people who shouldn’t have been given loans (never mind his part in wrecking the global economy, those assholes had it coming, and if they people ruined had been worth anything the government would have bailed them out, just like it did Buffet and Pandit, et al);

    Whoever the guys were that made the fortunes at WaMu;

    Bernie Madoff, who was so brilliant he seemed to create money out of thin air, just like a FED Chairman;

    All those wonderful guys that have made High Frequency Trading the best rigged game in town – afterall, they’re making bank, so they MUST be adding value, and therefore must be morally superior to all the poor folk in the world.

  • ...

    The worst thing about the debate is the framing. Note what Schuler said:

    There’s room in the kind of country I’d like the United States to be for a very small number of very rich people, especially the ultra-talented, ultra-hardworking, and ultra-lucky. The epitome that sort of individual would be some sports figures, e.g. Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods.

    Most of the rest of the people should earn medium-sized incomes and the preponderance of the country’s wealth should be in the hands of people who earn such incomes, whom we refer to here as “middle class” although our social classes are very different than social classes as they exist in most of the rest of the world. That’s no fantasy. It’s what the United States was like when I was younger.

    This is not the statement of a socialist, much less a communist. But it is impossible to make this kind of statement these days, because the leaders on both sides want this to be about a complete leveling, or doing nothing. And both sides want it that way because the backers of both sides want nothing done. They want more and more of the wealth to flow to them, and fuck everyone else. The rich and powerful in this country no longer view any of the rest of us as anything other than sub-human – after all, if we were fully human we’d be rich like them.

    One can’t argue of a position in the middle any more and get any traction. The rich just don’t want that kind of thing to happen any more.

  • mike shupp

    It’s what the United States was like when I was younger.

    You know, I wonder. That’s the picture of the United States I had when I was a kid. up to … hmmm … 1964, when I went off to college. I was a Midwestern kid, pretty much, with most of my life in small towns. My dad was a school teacher, or a principal, or for a few years a school superintendent. So we were “middle class.” There were people around us who had higher incomes but it didn’t show up much, there were people with less and again it didn’t seem to stand out any way. Nobody talked about income, after all. And everyone was white, and nobody was mentally retarded or schizophrenic or drug-dependent. No Mexicans, no Asians, no people with un-American religions. We were all just nice normal middle-of-the-road typical Americans.

    And I think now, 50 years later, that’s just so much bulls—.

    I think if I went back to those small towns and walked around for half an hour, I’d be pretty sure about who lived in poverty, and who was at the top of the pole. the sizes of people’s houses, how recently the grass had been mowed, the evenness of the paint on their exteriors, the condition of automobiles in the driveways, whether a window had been cracked long enough to accumulate one or several strips of duct tape, the state of toys lying in the yard.
    There’d be a thousand clues to wealth and status or poverty that didn’t mean a thing to me when I was 16 or 17, but would virtually scream at me today.

    And of course, there were other folk about,. Non-Americans. When I was in third grade, there was a black man living about two towns away from mine, maybe halfway across the county (I don’t recall anything especially noteworthy about him, just that when I asked adults out of curiosity if there were any Negros living near us, this fellow got mentioned..) And when I was in 9th grade, I actually had a Jewish classmate. Exciting, huh?

    Anyhow, I could spend some time bloviating on this stuff, but I think you get the idea. The image we had of society when we were young was probably idealized.

    Which is a different issue than whether Piketty’s prescriptions or anyone else’s could get us to those idyllic idealized worlds. Sorry about that,

  • And I think now, 50 years later, that’s just so much bulls—.

    No, that was really the case. My economics classes were around 50 years ago and that was something that was emphasized and re-emphasized. Charts were produced. Numbers were shown. I could dredge them up again but I’m quite certain it really was the case.

  • michael reynolds

    FDR railed at one point against 60 families who owned and controlled pretty much everything. Mid-1930’s, maybe late 1930’s.

    I think Dave that your econ numbers probably missed something that Mike Shupp caught. During the Depression (and before) Americans actually starved to death. When we called up troops for WW2 massive numbers of draftees were rejected due to the physical manifestations of malnutrition, let alone dental care, let alone illiteracy. We could not assemble an army without repeatedly lowering physical and mental standards. Meanwhile, we had still quite a few Gatsbys (if I may mix decades.)

    How well did 1950’s era numbers reflect white Appalachians or black Mississippians? It is no exaggeration to say that people in Washington in the 30’s had zero notion of poverty in the south. FDR sent Lorena Hickock out to discover what was going on and her reports are chock full of shock and amazement that Americans were suffering as badly as they did. Children going naked because even a rag was beyond the family’s means; people dying of tooth decay because they couldn’t see a dentist; men spending 12 hours a day in unregulated coal mines and coming out with so little that they’d be deeper in debt every day they worked.

    All of that co-existed with John D. Rockefeller and the vast mansions on Long Island and Newport.

  • Guarneri

    Its not my fault you only have a quarter in the couch, ice. Look in the mirror and take a shred of personal responsibility for once in your life.

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