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A Prescription for Unrest


Scott Grannis writes in his blog, Calafia Beach Pundit, Too much poverty, or too much aid?

In 1970, the population of the U.S. was just over 200 million. Today it is approaching 320 million. When the food stamp program (SNAP) started in 1970, it covered about 1.5% of the population. Today it covers about 14.5% of the population—a ginormous increase by any standard. An increase of this magnitude could only be driven by a reduction in eligibility standards, because we are all richer today than ever before.

Real household net worth today is over $80 trillion, up over 400%—more than $66 trillion—from what it was in 1964. Living standards, as defined by how much you can buy with a given amount of work, have risen by an extraordinary amount over the years. Yet the government is handing out more money to more people than ever before.
The huge increase in income redistribution is almost entirely driven by a political agenda that refuses to recognize that the average person today is better off than kings were yesterday, and instead focuses on the “problem” that some of the rich have gotten more richer than everyone else has gotten richer. 
If there is a real problem today, it is the redistribution of wealth. It has grown to such an extent that two-thirds of our children are being taught to believe that they can only enjoy a modern standard of living with the help of government handouts. A few generations ago, America was proud to teach its children that anyone could become rich if he or she were willing to study and work hard. Today’s children are being taught to believe that they are entitled to be rich, no matter how little or how hard they work. That is a prescription for decline and servitude and ultimately, great social unrest.
The answer to the question is obvious: we suffer from too much aid, not too much poverty.
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A Code Word for Tyranny


University of Chicago economist John Cochrane has written one of the most unique and insightful perspectives on inequality in his blog, The Grumpy Economist.  Read Why and how we care about inequality in its entirety.  It is about 6 pages long.


But let’s go with their argument. At least now the argument makes sense, in a way that limiting envy-induced spendthrifery does not. But looked at in the light of day, the argument is truly scary. They are saying that the government must confiscate individual wealth so that individual wealth cannot influence politics in directions they don’t like. Koch brothers, no. Public employee unions, yes.

We finally agree on a cause-and-effect proposition. Yes, expanding the power of the state to direct economic activity and strip people of wealth is well-proven way to cement the power of the state and quash dissent. 

So now you see why I rebel at the presumption that “inequality” is a problem, and why I rebel at the task of articulating an alternative “solution.” “Inequality” has become a meaningless buzzword, or code word for “on our team,” like “sustainability,” or “social justice.” Should we discuss “free-market solutions” to address “social justice?” 

“Inequality” has become a code word for endless, thoughtless, and counterproductive intrusions into economic activity. Minimum wages, stronger teachers unions, even prison guard unions, are all advocated on the grounds of “providing middle class jobs” to “reduce inequality,” though they do the opposite. Mayor Bill de Blasio has already reduced it to farce: As reported in the New York times, the latest energy efficiency standards for fancy New York high rises are being put in place. Why? To cool the planet by a billionth of a degree? To stem the rise of the oceans by a nanometer? No, first on the list… to reduce inequality. Poor people pay more of their incomes in heating bills, you see.


We are much better having wealth influence power than having power influencing wealth.

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Is Inequality Always Bad?

University of Chicago economist John Cochrane has written one of the most unique and insightful perspectives on inequality in his blog, The Grumpy Economist.  Read Why and how we care about inequality in its entirety.  It is about 6 pages long.


Yes, the reported, pre-tax income and wealth of the top 1% in the U.S. and many other countries has grown. We have an interesting debate whether this is “good” or “market” inequality – Steve Jobs starts a company that invents the iphone, takes home 1/10 of 1% of the welfare (consumer surplus) the iphone created, and lives in a nice house and flies in a private jet – or “bad,” “rent-seeking” inequality, cronyism, exploiting favors from the government. Josh Rauh made a good case for “market.” It’s interesting how we even use different language. Emmanuel Saez spoke of how much income the 1% “get,” and Josh how much the 1% “earn.”

In middle incomes, as Kevin Murphy told us, the “returns to skill” have increased. This has nothing to do with top-end cronyism. As Kevin so nicely reminds us, wages go up when demand for skill goes up and supply does not. He locates the supply restriction in awful public schools, taken over by teacher’s unions. Limits on high –skill immigration also restrict supply and drive up the skill premium. There’s a problem we know how to fix. Confiscatory taxation isn’t going to help!

More “education” is one obvious “solution.” But we need to be careful here, and not too quickly join the chorus asking that our industry be further subsidized. The returns to education chosen and worked hard for are not necessarily replicated in education subsidized or forced. Free tuition for all majors draws people into art history too. Forgiving student loans for people who go to non-profits or government work, or a large increase in wealth and income taxation, remove the market signal to study computer programming rather than art history, which raises the skill premium even more. Saudi Arabia spends a lot on “education” in Madrases around the world. In a Becker memorial conference remember three rules: Supply matters, not just demand; don’t redistribute income by distorting prices; and human capital investments respond to incentives. (By the way, I’m all for art history. Just don’t pretend that the measured economic returns to education will apply.)

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Financial Bloat

A black hole for our best and brightest by Frank Tankersley at The Washington Post

It’s not that finance is inherently bad — on the contrary, a well-functioning financial system is critical to a market economy. The problem is, America’s financial system has grown much larger than it should have, based on how well the industry performs.

To understand how and why that is, think of money as water and the financial system as a series of pipes. Ideally, the pipes deliver the water from people who have stockpiled it (investors) to people who want to put it to productive use (entrepreneurs, executives, home buyers, etc.).

Over the past half-century, America’s financial industry built a whole bunch of new pipes. The sector grew six times as fast as the economy overall during the past three decades. Other advanced countries didn’t see anywhere close to that growth in their financial sectors.

Some of America’s growth was driven by Washington. Lawmakers kept encouraging financial innovation, which built a market for smarter investment bankers. They did that by changing the tax code to encourage businesses to hire financial whizzes who could spin ordinary income into certain, preferred types of investment income, and by loosening restrictions on the kinds of financial activities that the titans of Wall Street could engage in.

But starting at about the time that Jackson joined Goldman, when Congress began tweaking investment-tax rates, Wall Street started drawing more educated workers. This made the average finance salary go up — from less than $50,000 a year in 1981 (which is about $100,000 in today’s dollars) to more than $350,000 a year in 2012.

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The Laffer Curve at 40


From Bloomberg Businessweek Haley Griffin writes The Napkin Doodle That Launched the Supply-Side Revolution

How would you classify the Laffer Curve today?
Laffer: It’s the same as always. It works. It’s not Republican, it’s not Democratic, it’s not conservative, it’s not liberal, it’s not left-wing, it’s not right-wing. It’s economics. People respond to incentives, and if you make something more attractive, they will do more of it. If you make something less attractive, they will do less of it. If you tax rich people and give the money to poor people, you are going to get lots and lots of poor people and no rich people. The dream in our country has always been to make the poor rich, not to make the rich poor.

tips to Calafia Beach Pundit


Laffer simply applied basic principles of economics to tax policy. Supply side economics is just simply ‘economics’.  Supply and demand are just twin sides of the same coin.  My supply is the source of my demand.

Yet this simple principle has been lost in terrible government policy where complexity is designed to obfuscate reality (Gruber), and mechanisms are created to hide true costs often from the proponents themselves.  The economic choice remains; it i snot extinguished when usurped by the government. Rather than to face the reality of tax policy the Laffer Curve has been demonized as trickle down economics and voodoo economics, by those who poorly understand it.  Many from the right distort it by claiming all tax cuts pay for themselves- also not true.

It is easier to demonize the truth than to accepts its consequences.