A third of a century ago, all of us economists confidently predicted that America would remain and even become more of a middle-class society. The wealth inequality of the 1870-1929 Gilded Age, we would have said, was a peculiar result of the first age of industrialization. Transformations in technology, public investments in education, a progressive tax system, a safety net and the continued decline in discrimination on the basis of race and sex had made late-20th century America a much more equal place than early-20th century America and would make early-21st century America even more equal - even more of a middle-class society - still.
We were wrong.
America is at least as unequal as, and might be more unequal than, it was back at the beginning of the 20th century when Republicans, such as President Theodore Roosevelt of New York condemned the power wielded by "malefactors of great wealth," and Democrats such as perennial losing presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan of Nebraska denounced shadowy conspiracies that had somehow manipulated the financial system to rob the typical family of its proper share in America's prosperity.
Four major factors have driven rising inequality over the past 35 years:
Waning progressivity of our tax system: We no longer tax the rich a significantly greater share of their income than we tax the middle class. The idea behind the cut in relative tax rates on the rich was that it would release blocked entrepreneurial energy and trigger a burst of more rapid economic growth.
It did not: Economic growth overall has been slower since President Ronald Reagan began waves of tax cuts for the rich.
Monday, October 29, 2012
Brad DeLong at SFGate:
Mr. Obama may not be as bold as we’d like, but he isn’t actively misleading voters the way Mr. Romney is. Furthermore, if we ask what Mr. Romney would probably do in practice, including sharp cuts in programs that aid the less well-off and the imposition of hard-money orthodoxy on the Federal Reserve, it looks like a program that might well derail the recovery and send us back into recession.
And you should never forget the broader policy context. Mr. Obama may not have an exciting economic plan, but, if he is re-elected, he will get to implement a health reform that is the biggest improvement in America’s safety net since Medicare. Mr. Romney doesn’t have an economic plan at all, but he is determined not just to repeal Obamacare but to impose savage cuts in Medicaid. So never mind all those bullet points. Think instead about the 45 million Americans who either will or won’t receive essential health care, depending on who wins on Nov. 6.