February 1, 2006

On Social Immobility, and Being Bitter

Yesterday afternoon, Benjamin Friedman, Professor of Economics and Director of Undergraduate Studies at Harvard, spoke at Dartmouth. You can grab The D's typically lackluster coverage of what was, for the most part, an incredibly monotonous and redundant speech. Friedman, who was promoting his 400 page re-articulation of the whole "economic growth creates social and and political progress" idea, seemed relatively unprepared to answer a straight question about his thesis. In fact, when asked if his thesis applies when growth comes with unequal distribution of wealth, he evasively replied that unequal growth was unlikely.

Later, during the Q & A, though, Friedman suddenly spoke out against Bush's tax cuts. He gave a relatively simple and apolitical reason: He said the administration justified them to spark higher investment by the wealthy, and because the surplus rendered high taxes unnecessary. Friedman continued, saying that these conditions/justifications no longer existed, and that the deficit required higher taxation on the wealthy.

This post on Brad DeLong brought an otherwise uninspiring speech back to my mind. "[T]he concentration of corporate wealth among the highest-income Americans grew significantly in 2003, as a trend that began in 1991 accelerated.... In 2003 the top 1 percent of households owned 57.5 percent of corporate wealth, up from 53.4 percent the year before, according to a Congressional Budget Office analysis of the latest income tax data. The top group's share of corporate wealth has grown by half since 1991, when it was 38.7 percent."

I've always been astonished by the lack of consciousness that Americans have of our nation's economic inequality. Maybe its that whole American Dream thing, where despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, people assume that we are on a level playing field ruled by merit. Maybe politicians and special interests have become very adept at playing this optimistic notion. And of course, there's always a good amount of red-baiting the second anyone suggests more comprehensive social welfare. The Gini coefficient, while not a perfect indicator of equality and social mobility, does provide a rough picture. The more egalitarian nations of the developed world are ranked in the top 3 (Denmark, Japan, Sweden). The USA is back at 74, keeping good company with Ghana and Cambodia.

The point of all of this? Its all good and dandy for Georgey to talk about the future of our children and economy via No Child Left Behind, and making health care affordable, but its all a complete crock. Its part ideology, and part unwillingness by either party to confront serious problems with anything more than incremental semi-solutions. Bush talks about making the tax cuts permanent, still dreams of a (highly regressive) flat tax, still wants social security "reformed" in a way that is not secure, refuses to even float the possibility of an increased public sector in health care and believes the answer lies in a tax shelter for the wealthy, thinks Medicare Part D will improve drug accessibility, talks about cutting unsuccessful programs (HeadStart?), wants to undermine college loan programs, and admires the role of government only when discussing welfare "reform" (reducing eligibility and then later claiming that reduction of welfare rolls is a mark of progress), and abstinence (which increases teen pregnancy rates).
Bullshit. I usually at least try to rein it in, as a precaution for the future employer that will inevitably google me. But seriously, its remarkable how myopic both parties have become. They discuss poverty, education, and healthcare, but all the Republicans offer are regressive policies masked in the rhetoric of self-determination, and all the Democrats offer is a meek defense of a troubled and unsatisfactory status quo in welfare policy. So, I'm done "reining it in" for today. You know what really grinds my gears? You, America(n Politicians). Fuccckkkkkkk youuuu.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous9:28 AM

    rein, like for a horse