Monday, January 03, 2011

Income inequality inanity part deux

Writing in today's Boston Globe, columnist James Carroll is the latest member of the left who struggles to explain why income inequality should be regarded as a pressing concern. This appears to be his best effort:
If a just society is defined by the relationship between the well off and the very poor, we have big trouble. US Census data for 2010 show the widest rich-poor income gap on record. In 1968, the top 20 percent of Americans had about 7 times the income of those living below the poverty line. By 2008, that disparity had grown to about 13. By 2010, it had grown even further, to more than 14. The poverty level in 2010 was put at $21,954 for a family of four. In 2010, the percentage of Americans living below half of the poverty line (or about $11,000) had grown from 5.7 percent in 2008 to 6.3 percent.
Why it is somehow remarkable that the number of Americans in poverty has risen by 0.6 percent during one of the most painful recessions since the Great Depression is not apparent, nor is it obvious how this may be related to the income levels of the rich. Indeed, we saw a similar (if not worse) dynamic during the sharp 1981-82 recession (when income inequality was presumable less pronounced). Left with such thin evidence, Carroll then shifts from an economic argument to the political realm:
Instead of generating a sense of moral urgency, this condition has produced a spirit of entitlement among the privileged, complacency among the struggling middle, and resignation among the impoverished. How else account for the most decisive judicial act of 2010 — the Supreme Court ruling in January that elite-protecting political spending by corporations must be unrestrained — and the most decisive legislative act — the December extension by Congress of massive tax cuts for that wealthiest sub-minority? And who can deny that the court decision led directly to the congressional act?
This is laughable. A much better question is why one should think the former has anything to do with the latter? Is Carroll not aware that opposition to tax hikes is long-standing Republican policy? Does he not realize that avoiding tax increases in a time of economic difficulty is consistent with mainstream economic theory? And what do corporate contributions have to do with individual income tax rates?

Are we to believe that President Obama was cowed into supporting the tax cut extension simply due to corporate interests? If so, that doesn't speak highly of him. Is it not possible that the election drubbing suffered by his party factored more prominently in Obama's thinking than a Supreme Court ruling? Further, should we attribute legislative success to the power of corporations in all instances? Since the Citizens United decision we have also seen passage of items such as Obamacare and new financial sector regulation -- were these too the result of corporate influence?

That Carroll and other income inequality doom-mongers employ such weak and spurious arguments speaks illustrates why they should be ignored.

Related: Good points on income inequality from Michael Barone.

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