Two policy-related issues over the last decade have gotten a lot
of press: climate-change, and more recently, economic inequality. Taking
these issues seriously requires governmental policy and tax
changes. Publicly, congress’ head is in the sand, but privately, many
Republicans and Democrats take the problems seriously.
What’s intriguing to me his how vociferous the anti-climate change
and anti-inequality forces have become. If you read closely,
you’ll note that the issues are tied closely to the anti-tax movement.
Still, to paraphrase Artemus Ward, the 19th century humorist: It ain’t
so much the things (we) don’t know that get (us) into trouble. It’s the
things (we) know that just ain’t so.
For example, we now know that more than 95% of scientists agree that
humanity has impacted climate to the point where unless we make changes
in industry and life-style, long term this planet is in trouble–that
includes our children and grandchildren. The scientific issue is
actually settled. The question is whether congress and the public will
want to do anything constructive about it.
The more recent hullabaloo has been over whether or not the rich are
getting richer and the poor poorer. Government programs can and do
reduce inequality. Indeed, there’s a great deal that can be done to
However, there’s a noisy band of American inequality deniers who are
trying to convince us that the rich aren’t getting richer, nor are the
poor getting poorer. In a spirited rejoinder to the issue, Jay Coggins, an applied economist at the University of Minnesota wrote commentary on the issue in today’s Star Tribune.
Coggins’ thesis is clear and direct:
Economists, a famously contentious
bunch, disagree about many things. On the question of economic
inequality, though, they disagree hardly at all: American inequality is
high and rising.
Economists, Coggins relates, use three main tools to study
inequality: measurement of poverty, compute the Gini coefficient (which
measures inequality for all of us), and compare the income or wealth of
the rich and very rich to the rest of us. On all three measures, the
stats are grim, shockingly so.
For a Gen-Yer looking to the future, the potential can be grim: one
person out of 30 can expect to move from anywhere in the bottom 40% to
anywhere into the top 20% in the next 10 years.
One of my coffee cronies, a dyed-in-the-wool Republican, retired
vice-president from Deluxe Check Corp, the multi-billion dollar firm,
called my attention to the article. Even he thought the consequences
and future for the younger generations are grim unless government and
his tribe of Republicans make some significant policy changes.
Hope you’ll read the article. It’s scary. Coggins also explains how
the inequality deniers come up with their ideas. And, oh
yeah, Coggins’ stats are correct and so is his conclusion. The rich are
definitely getting richer, and the poor (and the middle class) are
definitely getting poorer.