Friday, February 1, 2013

Why Liberals Fight Inequality

Why do liberals keep banging on about inequality?  Look: per capita income has gone from $3 per day to $100 per day in the last two centuries.  After going nowhere since forever.  So why worry that some have too much when everyone is doing better?

It all comes down to my mantra: Government is Force.

Reduced to its essentials, government is an armed minority defending some territory from enemies, foreign and domestic.  And it doesn't matter if the government is a government of male chimps defending their territory for its food or American anti-communists defending the world against godless communism.  The point is you defend against foreign pirates and predators and against the domestic kind too, whether burglars or criminal gangs.

But liberals beg to differ.  They don't think we need to spend all that money on defense.  In fact, following chaps like Noam Chomsky, they believe that the problem in the world is US imperialism not godless communism or Islamofascism.  Nor do they believe that a vigorous pursuit of domestic criminals is appropriate since their violence and criminality is really due to "root causes" like poverty and discrimination.

Good.  So now we can dispense with government completely?  Because if government is force and the traditional functions of government are no longer front and center, then we don't need the armed forces to defend our borders.  Nor do we need the police forces to defend against criminals.

How wrong can you be!  Our liberal friends had already seen the problem a century ago when William James wrote his celebrated essay of "The Moral Equivalent of War."  Without the unifying and character-building of real war, he wrote, we would need to inculcate its virtues with the moral equivalent.  As in a war on want, a war on poverty, a war on cancer.

And now we have the war on inequality.  The president's Osawatomie speech was the official Obamian declaration of war.  And Alan B. Krueger, then Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors, backed him up with a speech(pdf) on January 12, 2012.  The just war declaration depends on the following:
  • Since "the 1970s income has grown more for families at the top of the income distribution".
  • The "median household suffered saw a decline in real income in the 2000s."
  • The "top 1% of families saw a 278 percent increase in their real after-tax income from 1979 to 2007, while the middle 60% had an increase of less than 40 percent."
Then Krueger gets to the causes, according to a poll of economists, in declining order of importance:
  1. Skill-based technical change, and a "slowdown in the growth of the supply of relatively highly educated workers in the US".
  2. "Other and unknown factors."
  3. Globalization.  Some have benefited, "but other workers have been left behind by globalization".
  4. Union membership has declined, and union membership raises the wages of the lower middle class "so they can make it into the middle class".
  5. "Tax changes in the early 2000s benefited the very wealthy by much more than other taxpayers", and only three countries "have tax systems that reduce inequality by less than the U.S."
So what is to be done?  I'm glad you asked that.
  • The "Affordable Care Act is already helping middle class families."
  • It "is critical to take the steps necessary to ensure that the current economic recovery continues", e.g. through the extension of the payroll tax cut.
  • "Regulate excess risk-taking and corrupt practices in financial markets."
  • Adhere to the Buffet Rule, where those "making more than $1 million should not pay a lower share of their income in taxes than middle class families."
Oh yeah.  Big deal.

Krueger closes by asserting that "more fairness to the economy would be good for all parts of American society."  Oh by the way, "this isn't about class warfare."  But you knew that.

Notice what doesn't get a mention in this speech?  Right first time.  Government entitlements.  The collapse of the lower-income family.  The retreat of lower-income men from work and marriage.  The penal marginal tax rates on the poor.  The credentialization of work.  The meddling of government in the credit system.

And that's leaving out other things.  Maybe the inequality growth in the 1980s was a delayed reaction to the corporatism of the 1950s and 1960s that fast-froze economic relations.  Maybe it had nothing to do with government, but just reflected the computer and information revolution.  Maybe there were just astonishing profit opportunities (remembering that profit is always unexpected gain) out there and chaps like Gates, Jobs, Dell, Hamm and Co. saw an opportunity and took it.  Notice that, except fort Bill Gates, son of a prominent lawyer, the others were relative nobodies: Jobs the adopted son of a mechanic and carpenter; Michael Dell the son of a stockbroker; Harold Hamm, CEO of Continental Resources, started out pumping gas, and often missed school to help pick cotton.

But that's not the point.  The point is that government is force.  When you have decided that you don't need force to defend our borders, then you naturally turn to other things.  Like inequality.  And you never think that, wow, maybe our previous efforts at force haven't worked out too well.  You don't ever think of that.  Your mind just turns to increased taxes and increased entitlements.  And more regulation of the financial markets, which have been only recently wrecked by reckless government actions and subsidies.

Jonah Goldberg writes today that people are pretty commonsensical about local government.  But when we think about the federal government we get all religious:
we've come to see the federal government as some sort of mystical entity empowered to right all of the wrongs in society. If there's a problem, there "should" be a federal response, the costs or feasibility of that response be damned.
Notice the problem here.  We are mixing up church and state.  Mystical entities are supposed to be kept in churches.  Because government is force.  When you combine church and state and start legislating morality to "right all of the wrongs in society" then you get into trouble.

Government is about force.  Religion is about meaning.  When you mix the two you tend to get wars and crusades and the little people get crunched in the middle.

Assuming that you care about the little people.

No comments:

Post a Comment