We begin with a post by Jason Kuznicki, reacting to a poll in which 73% of respondents believe that there are not too few rich people:
- Pray that all their pain be champagne (The League of Ordinary Gentlemen)
His argument, in a nutshell:
As far as I am concerned, 73% of the country appears to have lost its mind. I’d like everyone to be rich, which means, obviously, that we have too few rich people.
Failing that, I’d like to select some random non-rich person, and, without changing anyone else’s wealth, make him or her rich. And I’d repeat that operation as many times as I was allowed to. Wouldn’t you?
Somewhat surprisingly — only because of the venue — the comments section is a free-for-all of raw, naked, emotional partisanship. (They’ve got a Marxist! A real, honest-to-balls, true-believer Marxist! Labour theory of value and everything!) I’ve never skimmed through a comment section at the League — at least, not since I started dropping in occasionally — and been filled with such an atavistic sense of dread at the idea of becoming enmeshed in it.
But that’s not to say it wasn’t instructive. Briefly, we learn that Jason and the freed-markets commentariat use wealth as a proxy for quality of life, while the left-progressive commentariat uses wealth as a proxy for power. No wonder they’re talking past each other! (We also learn that, no matter how often he repeats himself, Jason will never be able to persuade his interlocutors that when he writes “real wealth” he actually means “real wealth” and not “nominal wealth” or “unicorn giggles”. As I mentioned: raw, naked, emotional partisanship. The folks arguing against Jason aren’t actually arguing against him — they’re arguing against some sort of plutocratic straw-man and his Republican-voting shills.)
Well, I’m one of those “rising tide lifts all ships” proponents, so let me throw in my two cents (real, not nominal). Jason’s simple moral argument — wealth as a proxy for quality of life — is perfectly fine in isolation. But it also, quite by accident, addresses the left-progressive shibboleth of wealth inequality (see what I did there?) as a source of power mismatch. Jason notes, quite rightly, that if you argue in positional terms — “the 99% vs. the 1%”, for example — you’ll never get rid of inequality unless you can somehow get rid of fractions. But the power differential problem isn’t so much a matter of pure percentiles as it is, crudely, a matter of relative differences between those percentiles. If the median one-percenter has, I dunno, a hundred times as much wealth as the median individual — and we make the crucial assumption that wealth is linearly proportional to power — then teh ebil 1% is a hundred times more powerful per capita than the median. Now we apply Jason’s simple procedure of making enough non-rich people rich to bring median wealth up by a factor of ten. Oh look: the power differential has gone down by a factor of ten! That’s a good thing, right?
Fucking fractions; how do they work?
Next, Arnold Kling points us to a pithy sentence from Larry Summers:
A general posture for government of standing up for capitalism rather than particular well-connected capitalists would also serve to mitigate inequality.
Quite. The wealth-as-power-differential story depends critically upon rent-seeking and regulatory capture. I want less of both.
Of course, every time the income-inequality question comes up there’s always debate over whether those grasping plutocrats/noble wealth-creators actually deserve their megabucks, for example as a just reward for meaningfully contributing to society. I think it’s pretty fuckin’ clear that not all of them do, and Alex Tabarrok provides us with an example:
- The 57,000-page tax return (Marginal Revolution)
Behold the wonders of the corporate income tax! That
out-group punishment mechanism instrument of social justice is so effective, that General Electric spent an untold amount of money and man-hours creating a tax return fifty-seven thousand fucking pages long earlier this year, in order to claim a tax credit of $3,200,000,000 on about $14,000,000,000 in profits. You will find me difficult to persuade that any of the lucre and effort spent on that massive act of bureaucratic Onanism made a meaningful contribution to society. It’s all entropy.
Finally, Megan McArdle trolls the internet:
- The great work divide (The Atlantic)
Oh, sure, she starts off with a cogent point about the manifestations of one-percenter wealth now as opposed to in the ’80s (fewer corporate perks, more stock options), but then she writes this comment on credentialism:
It suddenly occurred to me that [credentials-based homogeneity] is a standard feature of the work lives of blue state elites: almost all of their contact is with people just like them. Same education, usually the same few states of origin, and a pretty uniformly shared set of values about what work is for and how it should be done.
These people tend to vote Democratic. Small-business owners, who work in much more diverse environments, tend to vote Republican. I’m not going to speculate on why this might be so–but I suspect that it matters.
Fortunately, I had the good sense to stay out of that comment section.