Poll data on how much Americans care about inequality — not much

by on April 30, 2014 at 1:24 pm in Data Source, Political Science | Permalink

Joseph Lawler reports:

Respondents were not particularly worried about income inequality, which President Obama identified in December as the “defining challenge of our time.” Just five percent said that inequality was a major problem needing attention. And nearly all — 93 percent — of those who listed inequality as a problem said they were not at all or only slightly confident that the government could make real progress in addressing inequality in 2014.

Here is my post from earlier today.

Ray Lopez April 30, 2014 at 1:39 pm

But public opinion is fickle. If you read ancient Greek history, you’ll see today’s hero becomes tomorrow’s villain at the drop of a hat, see Alcibiades. So it’s too early to tell if inequality is a hot topic or not, though I would not bet on it becoming so in America since most Americans still believe in the American Dream.

I think Piketty’s contribution is the same as what I anecdotally observed and have blogged about: it does not pay to work, and it pays to be a rent seeker. That is wrong, though I don’t think higher taxes will cure it. We need more radical reform like a better patent system and open borders, among other things (like a better school system).

Jay April 30, 2014 at 2:34 pm

You could say that about any topic at any time if you want. We didn’t just start talking about inequality, its a recurring theme on one side of the spectrum for decades that gets brought up when the economy is sour.

Urstoff April 30, 2014 at 2:43 pm

Citizens United and related decisions has seemed to rile up worries about inequality on the left too (see weekly stories about the nefarious doings of the Koch brothers).

BC May 1, 2014 at 6:46 am

I’m not sure why it should surprise anyone that most Americans don’t care much about inequality between the top 0.1-1 percent and the rest of the top 10-20 percent outside the top 1 percent. Even inequalitistas frame inequality in this way: they say that the “problem” is the top 0.1-1 percent “breaking away” from everyone else. The top 1 percent can only “break away” from the next 1 percent.

From the perspective of the bottom 20 percent, the top 20 percent is the top 20 percent. The distribution among the top 20 percent is largely irrelevant and, even more importantly, so are the emotional and psychological insecurities of those just outside the top 1 percent.

JB April 30, 2014 at 1:45 pm

We’ll end up like Africa.

Dominant genes yield dominant extended phenotypes.

The centralization of wealth/power that has been the key to horizontal transmission between nations of peripatetic cultures — most prominently Jews — yields increasing social virulence to which African genes are relatively immune. High degrees of heterozygosity yields a higher degree of variance in phenotype which, in turn provides more population immunity as well as greater tendency toward inequality.

Ironically, though, Martin Luther King Jr. in his last book promoted a race-blind citizen’s dividend as the solution to inequality, rather than racial preferences. This is exactly the kind of Democratic populism that could have headed off the genocide of old America and unified the interests of black and white working class against mass immigration. But then what would the Southern “Poverty” Law Center tell their paranoid donors? Ironically, MLK’s assassination has resulted in a quasi-religious fervor promoting the very racial hatred that groups like the SPLC and other racial rent-seekers profit from. Indeed, all of the politically correct quasi-theocracy has one basic object: lower wages and centralize wealth and power in the private and public rent-seekers respectively. Feminism? Double the labor supply. Multi-culturalism? Exponentiate the labor supply. Anti-racism? Tell the white working class to shut up about their interests like unions and immigration restriction, stop having children they can’t afford and pay their taxes to support public sector rent-seeking groups to have children beholden to the managerial elite which are beholden, now, to an African President. Was MLK’s deification — even if promoted by the likes of the SPLC/ADL — a group evolutionary strategy of African genes dominating the culture?

JB April 30, 2014 at 1:48 pm

We will end up in Africanized political economies.

“The countries in Africa had the highest pre-tax Gini coefficients in 2008–2009, with South Africa the world’s highest at 0.7.”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gini_coefficient

African genes dominate via extended phenotypics. All of the “shrewd” among us like Tyler Cowen who think they’re being oh-so-clever in promoting the centralization of wealth and power, while importing African genes, are as clueless as the suicidal crickets and zombie cockroaches: They’re merely harvesting the honey like busy little bees on behalf of their African extended phenotypic puppet masters.

Ray Lopez April 30, 2014 at 1:57 pm

@JB – you are trolling obviously, but in fact social organization not genes is why Cain killed Abel (farmer dominated hunter). Africans in fact have the best genes for survival, as well as the greatest diversity, but the wimpish non-Africans are better organized (social factors). Likewise the healthiest skeletons are from hunter-gatherers, not sedentary farmers. Read Jared Diamond for more info.

JB April 30, 2014 at 2:06 pm

I’m not trolling, i’m dead serious. Read Richard Dawkins’ The Extended Phenotype in particular the chapter titled “Host Phenotypes of Parasite Genes” for some context.

dead serious April 30, 2014 at 7:48 pm

No, I’m dead serious.

Cliff April 30, 2014 at 8:24 pm

“Greatest diversity” is a myth. You have to look at the genes that are meaningful.

Jeff April 30, 2014 at 10:30 pm

Assume commenters here (like me) are retarded and too lazy to follow your links, then explain what the heck you’re trying to get at.

jon April 30, 2014 at 2:01 pm

TC: This is not really a gauge of how people feel about inequality. People were asked to name up to their top ten concerns, not asked about any one concern. The top concerns included health care, unemployment, education, and the economy. Inequality is interwined with at least 3 of these 4.

If someone thinks less well of people should get better health care or education, the funds inevitably are going to come more from the more well off people.

Michael April 30, 2014 at 2:24 pm

Who says that better health care or education requires more funds? And, even if it does, why does it have to come off the back of the “more well off”? Your last comment strikes me as ignorant of most interesting recent policy proposals, and completely lacking in imagination.

Jon April 30, 2014 at 6:16 pm

Sure people make “interesting” policy proposals. That does not mean they will succeed on any significant scale without an increase in costs or by shifting spending away from one group to another.

Jay April 30, 2014 at 2:41 pm

Somehow I think if the results were flipped you wouldn’t be making the same post.

Jared April 30, 2014 at 3:59 pm

You’re on the right track there.

Ask people about raising the minimum wage or making education cheaper, and you will see how popular anti-inequality measures really are.

Cliff April 30, 2014 at 8:25 pm

You really think either of those things would do anything to decrease inequality?

Jan April 30, 2014 at 10:01 pm

Mystified.

Educational attainment has a substantial and well-demonstrated impact on future income. Making education cheaper means more people — poorer ones — can access it.

Minimum wage is very closely linked to…how much money people working those jobs make.

Equally Mystified May 1, 2014 at 10:48 am

Assuming people working in those jobs keep them

KPres May 1, 2014 at 1:08 pm

“The top concerns included health care, unemployment, education, and the economy. Inequality is interwined with at least 3 of these 4.”

Absolutely false. Poverty and inequality are only distantly related, if at all. Liberals deliberately conflate the two to tap into people’s natural emotional response toward poverty and redirect it as resentment toward the the wealthy. That’s pretty much their entire sick game.

Rahul April 30, 2014 at 2:09 pm

The second part says that people who think inequality was a major problem are smart?.Anybody who thinks real progress in addressing inequality can be made in one year is living in a fantasy. Notwithstanding who’s in power.

Doug April 30, 2014 at 2:23 pm

The kind of inequality most people care about isn’t whether Mark Zuckerberg’s worth $5 or $30 billion. It’s whether their brother in law is making $10 or $15 thousand more than them. Gini is largely irrelevant because it almost exclusively captures examples of the former type at the expense of the latter.

mw April 30, 2014 at 2:26 pm

And we all know how much TC respects public opinion on policy issues.

Doug April 30, 2014 at 3:31 pm

The issue isn’t that public opinion tells us what’s right on policy issues. The issue is that we’ve been told by Robert Frank and others that inequality creates unhappiness through relative comparisons. The justification for reducing inequality is that people would still be better off with slightly reduced incomes as long as they were more equal to their neighbors.

The fact that the public isn’t really concerned about inequality puts the lie to this belief. If inequality actually isn’t making people unhappy, then what’s the point of sacrificing economic efficiency to fix it?

Jared April 30, 2014 at 3:47 pm

This is all the worst form of semantic nonsense, propped up by pseudo-sociological bullshit.

People care a lot about issues that are tied up in inequality, or just manifestations of inequality. How popular is raising the minimum wage? What about “raising taxes on the rich”? The shrinking middle class? There’s a lot of anti-inequality planks to build a platform with even if you don’t hang a banner with the word “inequality” on it.

Don’t try and tell me that people are only motivated by what their brother in law earns. Mass culture is still a thing. Most people live a news saturated environment where we are in a recession 9 out of every 10 years while whichever despised group is making a killing. The equitable distribution of resources is the foundation of politics.

Doug April 30, 2014 at 4:21 pm

This has nothing to do with how much people intrinsically care about inequality. If Joe Sixpack supports a policy that would incidentally reduce inequality that doesn’t mean that Joe necessarily cares about inequality. Many people are highly concerned about helping the poor, but that doesn’t mean they are concerned with inequality itself. Dollars to donuts 90%+ of Americans would not support a policy that makes the poor worse off and the rich even worse off (slightly decreasing inequality).

And therein lies the difference between Pikkety and Robert Frank. The high priests of inequality crusaders would tell us that this is a good thing. The man on the street, or anyone with an ounce of common sense, would not.

Jared April 30, 2014 at 4:45 pm

I think you may have made a typo and hashed your meaning. It sounds like you’re saying that Piketty would not want to make everyone worse of to enhance equality, which is true and very much a good thing.

Neither Piketty or Frank is interested in a blind levelling. Piketty’s book has a lot of praise for capitalism and an understanding that unequal returns can make for good incentives. There is just simply no reason to believe that any old “natural” outcome is an expression of such justified inequalities. People are very much concerned with justifying inequality, I can assure you.

Doug April 30, 2014 at 5:07 pm

I’ll use math to make this crystal clear. Let U be the overall social utility based on whatever objective function you want to use. Let R be the income/wealth of the rich, and P be the same for the poor. Let I be some overall measure of inequality. Finally let X be the level of some policy that affects the above variables. The basic claim is that the man on the street doesn’t intrinsically care about inequality for him [dU/dI = 0] always, but Frank and Pikkety have an intrinsic dislike of inequality, for them [dU/dI > 0]. And of course everyone involved is quite reasonable and still ipso facto wants everyone to do better so [dR/dU > 0] and [dP/dU > 0] (assuming inequality remains unchanged).

It’s quite possible for the man on the street to support a policy that reduces inequality. If [dR/dX 0] , for some conditions [dU/dX > 0] while [dI/dX < 0]. However what's not possible is that if [dR/dX < 0] *and* [dP/dX 0] in this case. However for Pikkety if [dR/dX < dP/dX] then [dI/Dx 0] even though it reduces everyone’s overall economic well-being.

For Pikkety, (r – g) is a manifestation of inequality, and he places negative utility on (r – g). Therefore he derives positive marginal utility from a reduction in inequality. By basic mathematics there are some hypothetical policies he supports that would make everyone worse off, just because they reduce the r/g growth rate differential. 95%+ of Americans would reject support for policies as absurd.

Jared April 30, 2014 at 5:30 pm

That’s the best parody of model building I’ve ever seen.

Doug April 30, 2014 at 5:33 pm

So, I can assume you have no serious criticism and concede the point? Or you’re just too lazy/stupid to check the math?

Either point out a mathematical error, or withdrawal from the debate.

byomtov April 30, 2014 at 5:47 pm

Crystal clear?

First of all, you left out some “>’s” and “<'s", so it's hard to tell what you are saying.

Second, you seem to be taking dR/dU and dP/du when you want dU/dR and dU/dP, so it's hard to tell what you are saying.

Third, this non-sentence:

However what’s not possible is that if [dR/dX < 0] *and* [dP/dX 0] in this case. makes no sense.

Maybe you could clean all that up a little, in the interest of that clarity you calim to seek, and then we could get on to seeing about mathematical errors. You might also address the question of the range of values over which the derivatives are as you assume.

Jared April 30, 2014 at 6:01 pm

I don’t give a shit about your math, since your hubristic enough to try and model another man’s world view with a handful of equations and stupid assumptions. Making r=g is not something that is always good for Piketty. He’s a human being being, not some computer program that is unresponsive to contingency. R>g in most cases just signifies efficiently allocated capital. In a highly concentrated endowment economy, when r>g confers increasing advantage to lucky individuals by birth, that is when making r=g is utility producing.

Doug April 30, 2014 at 6:51 pm

sub: “wants everyone to do better so [dR/dU > 0] and [dP/dU > 0]” -> “wants everyone to do better so [dU/dR > 0] and [dU/dP > 0]” (though this is irrelevant from a math standpoint)

sub: “If [dR/dX 0] , for some” -> “If [dR/dX < 0] and [dP/dX < 0] , for some"

sub: "However what's not possible is that if [dR/dX "However what's not possible is that if [dR/dX < 0] *and* [dP/dX 0] for the man on the street.”

sub: “for Pikkety if [dR/dX "for Pikkety if [dR/dX 0]”

“You might also address the question of the range of values over which the derivatives are as you assume.”

Irrelevant to the problem domain. All I specified was that there are policies that exist that meet certain criteria (namely supported by Pikkety which reduce all classes material wealth). Specifying the range for which those policies exist is tediously unnecessary to proving the original conjecture.

Doug April 30, 2014 at 6:55 pm

“Making r=g is not something that is always good for Piketty. He’s a human being being, not some computer program that is unresponsive to contingency.”

You’ve failed to understand basic marginal impact. All I said was that on the margin Pikkety prefers a smaller (r-g). That statement alone is enough to mathematically prove that there exists a subset of policies supported by Pikkety that makes all classes materially worse off (though at different levels).

Doug April 30, 2014 at 6:57 pm

“First of all, you left out some “>’s” and “<'s", so it's hard to tell what you are saying."

The comment handling logic seems to perpetually drop certain character combos. It's quite obvious though what I meant in each place.

TMC April 30, 2014 at 6:57 pm

Doug, I think you’ve been arguing with a spambot.

Doug April 30, 2014 at 7:02 pm

Repost to handle comment logic dropping character combos

I’ll use math to make this crystal clear. Let U be the overall social utility based on whatever objective function you want to use. Let R be the income/wealth of the rich, and P be the same for the poor. Let I be some overall measure of inequality. Finally let X be the level of some policy that affects the above variables. The basic claim is that the man on the street doesn’t intrinsically care about inequality for him [dU/dI = 0] always, but Frank and Pikkety have an intrinsic dislike of inequality, for them [dU/dI 0] and [dU/dP > 0] (assuming inequality remains unchanged).

It’s quite possible for the man on the street to support a policy that reduces inequality. If [dR/dX 0], for some conditions [dU/dX > 0] while [dI/dX < 0]. However what's not possible for the man on the street is [dR/dX < 0] and [dP/dX 0]. However for Pikkety if [dR/dX < dP/dX < 0] then [dI/dX 0] even though it reduces everyone’s overall economic well-being.

For Pikkety, (r – g) is a manifestation of inequality, and he places negative utility on (r – g). Therefore he derives positive marginal utility from a reduction in inequality. By basic mathematics there are some hypothetical policies he supports that would make everyone worse off, just because they reduce the r/g growth rate differential. 95%+ of Americans would reject such policies as absurd.

Doug April 30, 2014 at 7:10 pm

Argghh!! Screw this comment system. It keeps dropping entire sentences. Don’t use brackets or inequality chars in this comment system.

Look it’s very simple, and only a moron can’t understand the basic idea. If you intrinsically dislike inequality, just because of inequality, there’s certain times whenever everyone becomes poorer, but the rich lose more money than the poor. That reduces inequality, but everyone is materially worse off. No rational person would say those are good times, but Piketty would if the reduction in inequality was high enough relative to the material suffering.

Rational people might care helping the poor, even if it comes at the expense of the rich. But only lunatics (i.e. people who are quite far away from the norm) care about inequality just for inequality’s sake.

byomtov May 1, 2014 at 4:48 pm

So all those derivatives and whatnot are completely unnecessary to make your point, nor is there any proof of anything in it all. You simply chose to complicate a simple statement with some mathematical notation.

Apparently you think that Piketty believes that reduction in inequality is always a good thing, even if it comes at the cost of everyone having a lower income.

Can you point us to where he says this?

Colin April 30, 2014 at 9:11 pm

How popular is raising the minimum wage?

I suspect this has little to do with inequality and more to do with people seeking to improve their absolute incomes, not closing the gap with Bill Gates. I imagine that given the choice between getting no raise in the minimum wage but having money taken away from the rich and dumped in the ocean — thus reducing inequality — or getting a raise but having the incomes of the 1% go up even more, most people would opt for the latter.

What about “raising taxes on the rich”?

Seems to me this is usually presented in the context of what to do about the budget deficit. Having the other guy pick up the tab is usually a popular option. Not sure the relevance to inequality here.

The shrinking middle class?

Seems to me that this is a proxy for people perceiving a decline in their absolute standard of living and being stretched thinner and thinner. This has more to do with worry about their absolute condition than not keeping up with the 1%.

Don’t try and tell me that people are only motivated by what their brother in law earns.

I know lots of people who compares themselves financially and materially to their friends, often through facebook. Have yet to meet someone who uses the uber-wealthy as a reference point for how they are doing.

Ray Lopez April 30, 2014 at 11:29 pm

I think I understood Doug’s math, which was probably better summarized in words. BTW the “greater than” and “less than” characters are automatically stripped out by the comment filter here to prevent so-called SQL Injection attacks. It’s a rather primitive way to prevent such attacks, as there are better ways of doing so at the back-end, speaking as a sometime programmer.

dave smith April 30, 2014 at 2:39 pm

Krugman’s post proves that income inequality is very important to those who think income inequality is very important.

Willitts April 30, 2014 at 5:54 pm

Exactly.

The Other Jim May 2, 2014 at 9:38 am

Nice, but I’m not even sure I’d go that far. Neither Krugman nor Obama think it’s important. They simply really, really enjoy hyping it. For entirely selfish reasons.

So it’s more accurate to say that the people hyping income inequality are the people who like to hype income inequality.

Jeff April 30, 2014 at 2:44 pm

Ummm

Obama’s wrong, but so are you, Tyler. Spend time on Reddit and you’ll quickly notice that people do care, a lot. Contrary to your expectations, America’s recent-grad population feels strongly that inequality is a growing problem and that it will continue to get worse unless addressed by smart policies. Inequality is the defining issue of *my time* (I’m 23), but maybe not yours.

Also, polling public opinion is often a terrible way of figuring out what problems the country faces. The public is a mass of ill-informed morons. That’s why I come here, not facebook, for commentary on policy issues.

Ian April 30, 2014 at 3:04 pm

I’m 23, a recent-grad, and I don’t feel that inequality is a growing problem, and I definitely don’t feel it is the defining issue of *my time*. Furthermore, I’m mostly worried about people who say “…it will continue to get worse unless addressed by smart policies”- substitute whatever issue you like for “it”.

Oh no, your anecdote!

Doug April 30, 2014 at 3:28 pm

Reddit’s user base is primarily made up of a population that’s 115+ IQ, but who are significantly lazier than the general population (hence the reason they have so much free time to spend browsing Reddit, many of them stealing time from their employer). These are precisely the people most likely to be concerned about inequality. They spent most of their lives doing well in school without expending that much effort, but in the real world being a bright but stoned slacker off has caused their relative status to drop precipitously from what they were used to when younger.

If you survey a group of people with opposite characteristics, say an insurance salesmen convention, I’m sure you’d find attitudes pre-disposed in the opposite direction. Neither one tells you anything about the general opinion of the public.

Jan April 30, 2014 at 9:17 pm

How do you know so much about the characteristics of the Reddit community? Are you just guessing, or is there research on this?

Doug April 30, 2014 at 10:57 pm

“The median Reddit user is 25 to 34 years old, has some college education, and is in the lowest income bracket ($0-$24,999).”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reddit

Jan May 1, 2014 at 6:08 am

Wikipedia actually doesn’t say that right now. Maybe it did in the past? But it still doesn’t get at what the average IQ is.

JWatts April 30, 2014 at 6:47 pm

“Spend time on Reddit and you’ll quickly notice that people do care ”

I think that dave smith covered that above:
“Krugman’s post proves that income inequality is very important to those who think income inequality is very important.”

Reddit is full of people who think income inequality is very important.

chuck martel April 30, 2014 at 8:08 pm

People wouldn’t even be aware of so-called “income inequality” if it wasn’t the current media cause celebre. A few years ago we were all going to die from AIDS, then mad cow disease, then the housing crisis. Climate change isn’t drawing enough viewers so it’s time to move on to income inequality. Any guesses on what the next crisis will be? Maybe the Russians will re-annex Ukraine but that doesn’t seem terrifying enough.

Dan Weber April 30, 2014 at 9:38 pm

spend time on Reddit and you’ll quickly notice that people do care

I would give you gold, only for the irony.

SlappyDuck May 1, 2014 at 11:47 am

I can’t tell if this was satire or not (spend time on reddit…) but I laughed either way

The Other Jim May 2, 2014 at 9:41 am

>The public is a mass of ill-informed morons.

… says the guy who is using Reddit to take the Informed Pulse of the Nation.

Donald Pretari April 30, 2014 at 3:25 pm

I think needing a job and healthcare trump inequality, since we could have less inequality and yet be poorer. It’s also a bit abstract compared to eating and getting medical treatment if you need it. However, the fact that war is so low on the list is a bit disheartening. After all, we’re asking people everyday to fight and die for us, and that seems to trump personal issues to me. But then, I grew up during the Vietnam War, and find the lack of personal involvement in our ongoing war bizarre. It’s true less troops are involved, but that’s really not a good excuse.

T. Shaw April 30, 2014 at 3:32 pm

The 95% that don’t think so-called inequality is a problem do no matter.

The government needs a new crisis to take away more money and diminish liberty.

Hope ahd Change Obama has created more poor Americans.

Benny Lava April 30, 2014 at 3:57 pm

Except when you ask them about it and over 60% think it is a problem:

http://www.gallup.com/poll/166904/dissatisfied-income-wealth-distribution.aspx

This type of post is the sort of sleazy drivel some cable news pundit would cherry pick. What a bunch of shit.

Jared April 30, 2014 at 4:50 pm

Has anyone else noticed that Tyler kinda sucks these days? I mean just last year he wrote a book about how the future was going to be defined by unbelievable tech driven inequality, but these days he seems to want everyone to just shut up about it because the “real” people don’t care about it.

What gives?

Max Factor April 30, 2014 at 5:07 pm

I’ve noticed

85 percent of us will be eating beans and prostituting ourselves to the rich but inequality? That isn’t an issue.

guest April 30, 2014 at 7:22 pm

The older you get, the less creative ideas you develop. Tyler is just going to keep re-heating same ole same ole for as long as the Koch’s want to keep the lights on for him before retiring to the world of outright media punditry. His daily links are the only thing that sometimes actually makes it worthwhile to click through.

Jan April 30, 2014 at 9:24 pm

I think it’s possible he has made a conscious decision to take a more activist approach on his blog. MR is his, so fair enough if he wants to go in that direction, but it’s off putting that he only mentions the other side to tear it down on any policy-related issue these days. There’s plenty of sites like that already.

Ray Lopez April 30, 2014 at 11:35 pm

@Jared–TC is just reporting the facts, about what the average American thinks about inequality. His book however was a prediction. Two different themes. I suspect but can’t prove that TC probably, being rich like me (I’m in the 1%), does not really care too much about inequality or the poor (as I don’t), until such time they revolt and threaten violence. Nobody wants to live in barbed wire and broken glass ringed fence complexes like they do South of the Border because of envy from the poor, though, having lived in such places and in such a place now (the Philippines), it sounds worse than it is. But I notice Americans, when they turn violent, tend to use guns, whereas outside the USA in developing countries they are less lethally violent. It’s all about expectations: if you are a well-to-do American that turns poor, or if you think you’ve been denied the American Dream, you’re more likely to gravitate towards extreme solutions like violence.

Slappy McFee April 30, 2014 at 5:10 pm

Next time you’re bored at the Gallup site, take a look at the “are my taxes too high, too low, or just right” poll. For nearly 60 years, the “too low” people have managed a whopping 3%. So no, people aren’t that concerned with income inequality. It’s also wierd that so many people that profess to be worried about this non-issue waste a lot of time on the internets instead of out in the world redistributing their resources to others.

Andrew' April 30, 2014 at 4:29 pm

The defining issue of our time?

Thank God. I was sick of global warming.

Brian Donohue April 30, 2014 at 7:01 pm

+1.

Jan April 30, 2014 at 9:25 pm

-1. Rising China.

Mark Thorson April 30, 2014 at 10:10 pm

Whoa, there. What happened to Japan, Inc.? They were going to clean our clock, then suddenly that boogeyman went away.

We’ve already seen Peak China. It’s all downhill from here.

Jan April 30, 2014 at 10:46 pm

I’m not so sure. These Chinese people keep moving to big urban centers, getting richer, and going to college, and they have lot of that left to do! Also, a lot of Chinese companies are just now starting to benefit from growing domestic markets for their products. Real estate sales in attractive parts of the US and Canada are being driven in no small part by wealthy Chinese investors. One other thing: China builds needed infrastructure on a scale nobody else can.

Yes, Japan is a country in Asia, but I don’t think the 80s story of Japan, Inc. really has all that much in common with Rising China. Demographics could certainly slow things down in the future, but China already has well over a billion people.

Jan April 30, 2014 at 10:48 pm

Also, I’m not saying it should be a bogeyman, just a big change.

Brenton May 3, 2014 at 12:40 am

Japan is developed, China is developing. China has a long way to go. Japan was going to clean our clock? How so? A powerful Japan is an asset to the free world. Japanese people actually care about human rights. Considering the PRC’s oppression, poor human rights, support of genocidal states, etc I’m not so sure China’s increasing power is a good thing for the world.

Max Factor April 30, 2014 at 5:05 pm

The second and third concerns were the economy and unemployment. Inequality is a part of both. The jobs we are creating are largely low wage and too many peole are out of work. Inequality of wages and inequality of employment status.

Start creating 300k jobs a month, raising wages, lowering big ticket items (rent, healthcare, insurance, education) and lowering unemployment the right way and the inequality meme will stop.

Doug April 30, 2014 at 5:12 pm

“Start creating 300k jobs a month, raising wages, lowering big ticket items (rent, healthcare, insurance, education) and lowering unemployment the right way and the inequality meme will stop.”

No one’s denying that these issues matter. But the point is people don’t intrinsically care about inequality per se. Imagine if some amazing new technology was invented that created a ton of jobs, raised middle class wages and lowered the cost of rent, healthcare and education. *But* everyone billionaire’s net worth increased by an order of magnitude. Gini would certainly go up, but would people be happy or sad about this development? People care about the economy, but they don’t care about inequality.

And while we don’t have magic technology, we do have tools to push things in that direction. Here’s a simple one, declare a tax holiday on American corporations repatriating foreign earnings. That would assuredly spike job creation. But the main impediment are leftists concerned about the windfall to the plutocrats. That goes to show the inequality meme is hurting, not helping, the economic issues people care about.

Jared April 30, 2014 at 5:49 pm

I will stack up the losses due to a focus on inequality any day against the macroeconomic destruction brought on by cranky rightists preventing macro stabilization because of their fear of inflation and fiscal stimulus, in large part because they hate the supposed distributional effects of such policies. The phobia of equality is a much bigger curse than whatever excess zeal for levelling exists.

Brian Donohue April 30, 2014 at 7:06 pm

fear of fiscal stimulus? That’s a good one.

http://www.usdebtclock.org

Doug April 30, 2014 at 7:13 pm

There’s a fiscal stimulus that cranky rightists support any day of the week. It’s called tax cuts. The fact that leftists insisted on government spending rather than tax cuts, even though the latter would have been much easier to pass in size, goes to show that they don’t care about fiscal stimulus, only handing out goodies to their government worker constituents.

Jan April 30, 2014 at 10:08 pm

Have effective tax rates gone up or down over the past 10 years? And how about federal spending — has it been increasing or decreasing as share of GDP?

efcdons April 30, 2014 at 11:33 pm

no. A tax holiday would have, according to the heritage foundation, “a minuscule effect on domestic investment and thus have a minuscule effect on the U.S. economy and job creation.”
http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2011/10/would-another-repatriation-tax-holiday-create-jobs

Do you guys have a policy proposal that doesn’t involve giving the rich a tax cut?

Jay May 1, 2014 at 1:30 pm

Nice conflation there, please name the last time only the rich’s taxes were cut.

Brandon May 1, 2014 at 4:49 pm

Estate tax reform?

Jay May 2, 2014 at 11:42 am

Are you referring to the changes made in “Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001″? Yes these included temporary estate tax cuts but also sweeping tax cuts across the board.

KPres May 1, 2014 at 1:17 pm

“The second and third concerns were the economy and unemployment. Inequality is a part of both.”

You people keep saying that and you’re still wrong. Concerns about the economy and unemployment have nothing to do with inequality. See 1998, when inequality was just as high as it is today.

Willitts April 30, 2014 at 5:51 pm

The central challenges of our times are obviously:

1. Discrimination by leprechauns.
2. Unicorn attacks.

Cuz when you think about it, nothing else really matters.

Donald A. Coffin April 30, 2014 at 6:14 pm
Robert April 30, 2014 at 6:16 pm

People are inherently unequal so why shouldn’t there be inequality?

philosophking April 30, 2014 at 6:19 pm

Of course some inequality is accepted, but all of us have our limits. Piketty’s argument is that things have gotten out of hand with inequality and now is the time to address it. He has some powerful data to back up his claim.

philosophking April 30, 2014 at 6:18 pm

Inequality is affected by many on that list in some way or another, particularly unemployment and debt. Piketty and others’ broader point is obviously that inequality has pernicious effects on public policy in general through elite influence. Even if inequality were on the top of the list, progressives would make the same point that many of these ideas are related.

Cliff April 30, 2014 at 9:06 pm

What is the evidence on elite influence? Now that the wealth of the top 1% has increased from 20% to 40% (made up figures) elite 1%ers (i.e. doctors) control politicians?

Jan April 30, 2014 at 9:56 pm

Cliff, are you questioning money’s influence on policy? Or are you questioning whether wealthy people gaining an increased share of the country’s wealth would further increase their influence?

A B April 30, 2014 at 7:36 pm

This is Moneyball politics. The President is attempting to address a particular narrow constituency who will respond to his remarks. This is probably the result of research and will be followed up by experiment-driven followup actions, i.e., op-eds and social media posts. The purpose of this is to energize a group to vote in the 2014 elections. This was precisely what the President did in his re-election campaign (Life of Julia? Birth Control must be free?) and why so much of what he said and did didn’t make sense to the majority of listeners– but had an effect on various segments of the population.
Another example of this, by the way is the discredited 77 cents on the dollar equality comments. He said it anyway, not caring that most of us think it’s dumb. Some people didn’t and those people were being targeted.

I think it is demeaning to the Presidency that he chooses to act in this manner, but he has made our bed and we must all sleep in it.

Jan April 30, 2014 at 9:42 pm

You’re dreaming if you think this administration is the only one to ever (gasp!) test messages and make statements that speak to particular segments of the population. Anyone who’s ever watched an episode of West Wing knows this.

Who do you think Mitch McConnell is talking to when he walks out waiving a gun to a Bon Jovi song at CPAC, obviously totally uncomfortable with the whole thing?

A B May 1, 2014 at 6:56 am

Agree that politicians lie and that previous presidents have said untrue things and even lied. But the presidential cases I recall are different: Reagan being wrong about trees causing pollution, Clinton lying about his personal life, and W being grossly mistaken about the nature of Iraq’s chemical weapons program. None of those Presidents were driving domestic policy with a sequence of messages that have only incidental relationships to the truth. It was *hard* to determine what was going on in Iraq. It is easy to determine that women earn more than 77 cents on the dollar.

TMC May 1, 2014 at 8:12 am

Agreed, but once again, Reagan was right: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130425132812.htm

sort_of_knowledgable May 1, 2014 at 7:27 pm

The trees produce isoprene which react with human-made nitrogen oxides. If humans weren’t producing pollution the trees wouldn’t be producing the hazardous particular matter..

Jan May 1, 2014 at 9:58 am

Trickle down much?

The Anti-Gnostic April 30, 2014 at 8:16 pm

Isn’t inequality a wildly inapt term? Nobody cares about “inequality” except the perpetually envious because anybody with an ounce of sense knows equality is impossible without totalitarian redistribution. And then, of course, the redistributors enjoy higher status..

I think people’s main concern is how they’re stretched increasingly thin to try and maintain a middle class standard of living, and a single arbitrary event could permanently alter their living standards.

I’m a middle-class striver with embarrassingly low net worth and I could care less about inequality. There will always be somebody more prudent, talented, better looking, etc. My concern is the increasing drift toward banana republic economics: the poor are to be prohibited from becoming rich, and the rich are to be protected from becoming poor.

Cliff April 30, 2014 at 9:05 pm

Where is that drift manifesting itself, exactly?

The Anti-Gnostic April 30, 2014 at 10:10 pm

A central bank that hoovers up whatever amount of debt instruments it must to keep asset values high. There should have been way more high-level bankruptcies in 2008.

Max Factor April 30, 2014 at 10:27 pm

“I think people’s main concern is how they’re stretched increasingly thin to try and maintain a middle class standard of living, and a single arbitrary event could permanently alter their living standards”

Exactly. People care about their own ability to have a “typical” middle class life. Nobody truly gives an eff how much their doctor or accountant makes. A decent place to live in a safe neighborhood; 2 kids and 2 reasonably priced cars. State college for the two kids and maybe an annual vacation plus some XMas gifts. Nothing fancy – but these days 80% of new jobs are sub $35K and the majority of jobs that are predicted to come online in the 2020s are also low wage. Robotics, AI and immigration will keep pushing wages down.

Jan April 30, 2014 at 9:46 pm

So why do polls consistently find that most people think raising taxes on the rich is a good idea? Are we saying that inequality is not central to that calculation?

Jay May 1, 2014 at 1:35 pm

Polls find that because it’s always easy to say the other guy should pick up the tab and it’s socially desirable to say the rich can and therefore should pay more. When polls ask how much those rich should pay it is consistently lower than what they actually pay.

Jan May 1, 2014 at 3:12 pm

Of course it is, that is why people are saying they should pay more. The questions are not always framed as “someone is getting their taxes raised–should it be you or rich people?”

Jay May 2, 2014 at 11:48 am

They don’t have to be framed like that to be interpreted like that. Again, it costs zero and is always socially desirable to say that rich people are rich and should therefore give up more for the good of other people (including me). When asked how much they should pay then, the number is consistently lower than what they currently pay which is way more telling than the number of people saying they should be pay more.

Eric Rasmusen May 1, 2014 at 1:21 am

The people most concerned about inequality are the liberal elite. Most of them hang out with rich people, who earn a lot more than journalists and college professors who have IQ’s just as high or higher. Also, people in the top 1% are the only people who notice that the top .1% has gained a lot while the top 1% is stagnant. How unfair!

Jan May 1, 2014 at 6:11 am

Speculative.

Theb33j May 1, 2014 at 7:07 am

Journalists have high IQ? I know they like to think that but

Jay May 1, 2014 at 1:36 pm

Especially coming right off the heels of MSNBC claiming Animal Farm was anti-Capitalist.

Mesa May 1, 2014 at 9:57 am

Take the Census quintile income data from 1966-2012 and calculate change in log(income) from 1966-2012 as a proxy for utility increases. You’ll find that utility increases by quintile have been nearly identical across qunitiles (23%-25%). Note that this is pre-tax, pre-benefit income. After tax and benefits its likely that utility increases calculated this way would be larger for the lower quintuples. Why do all these inequality studies fail to account for marginal utility of income? I don ‘t think these results would change much with any plausible utility function.

Mesa May 1, 2014 at 10:00 am

Put another way if the justification for redistribution is essentially utilitiarian, why don’t the time series measures of income changes include that differential marginal income effect?

Mesa May 1, 2014 at 10:07 am

So, in utility space there may not be huge discrepancies in increases, at least across quintiles. This typ of effect would probably be necessary for a large political uprising. I suspect that the top 1% type stuff will show greater utility increases than the top qunitile, but the sheer low numbers of these people may not be enough to generate a political uprising.

Marie May 1, 2014 at 8:41 pm

Nobody cares about income inequality.

What they care about is when they break their buns working a hard week doing productive work and wind up not being able to pay to fix the car to get back to it the next day, and then they see some other schmuck who seems to be hardly working, or hardly producing, but consuming conspicuously and broadly.

It’s even worse when they are forced into handing the schmuck a check.

The left wants to turn this into an income distribution thing. The right wants to pretend it isn’t a factor. As we have more and more of this going on, this will become more of a factor. Joe the Plumber doesn’t want a welfare check to increase his income so that his taxes can go to support more attorneys at the EPA. He wants there to be fewer attorneys at the EPA. So the left’s solution isn’t going to make folks happy, and the right has no solution except to tell Joe he should have been an attorney.

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