Krugman: Even Conservatives Are Realizing that Inequality Is a Drag

'Goodbye, trickle down; hello, trickle up?'

Photo Credit: via youtube/Moyers & Company

It probably had to come to this before anything could be done: even conservative economists are starting to grudgingly realize that drastic inequality is a problem for everybody. So says Paul Krugman in his Friday column. "American inequality has become so extreme that it’s inflicting a lot of economic damage, " he writes. "And this, in turn, implies that redistribution — that is, taxing the rich and helping the poor — may well raise, not lower, the economy’s growth rate."

Pretty radical, the notion that the dreaded socialist notion of "redistribution" could actually go mainstream. Still doubtful? Let Krugman try to convince you:

You might be tempted to dismiss this notion as wishful thinking, a sort of liberal equivalent of the right-wing fantasy that cutting taxes on the rich actually increases revenue. In fact, however, there is solid evidence, coming from places like the International Monetary Fund, that high inequality is a drag on growth, and that redistribution can be good for the economy.

Earlier this week, the new view about inequality and growth got a boost from Standard & Poor’s, the rating agency, which put out a report supporting the view that high inequality is a drag on growth. The agency was summarizing other people’s work, not doing research of its own, and you don’t need to take its judgment as gospel (remember its ludicrous downgrade of United States debt). What S.& P.’s imprimatur shows, however, is just how mainstream the new view of inequality has become. There is, at this point, no reason to believe that comforting the comfortable and afflicting the afflicted is good for growth, and good reason to believe the opposite.

Specifically, if you look systematically at the international evidence on inequality, redistribution, and growth — which is what researchers at the I.M.F. did — you find that lower levels of inequality are associated with faster, not slower, growth. Furthermore, income redistribution at the levels typical of advanced countries (with the United States doing much less than average) is “robustly associated with higher and more durable growth.” That is, there’s no evidence that making the rich richer enriches the nation as a whole, but there’s strong evidence of benefits from making the poor less poor.

But how is that possible? Doesn’t taxing the rich and helping the poor reduce the incentive to make money? Well, yes, but incentives aren’t the only thing that matters for economic growth. Opportunity is also crucial. And extreme inequality deprives many people of the opportunity to fulfill their potential.

Krugman goes on to point out how drastic inequality deprives talented, but low-income children in America of ways to use their talent — good educations, career opportunities — and that is not merely "unfair" (conservatives don't care about that!), it's expensive. (Now, you're speaking their language!)  "Extreme inequality means a waste of human resources," Krugman states it, so the corporatists in his audience can relate. 


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