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Tony Quain
Tony Quain is a commentator on free-market economic theory and policy. He has a Ph.D. in economics from George Mason Univ. More >>
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Inequality today
Redistribution today
Taxes today

Link: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/30/opinion/congress-should-reauthorize-the-export-import-bank.html?ref=todayspaper&_r=0

Their argument is basically that other countries subsidize their exports, so we should also to avoid losing in the global marketplace.

Not buying it. If other countries subsidize their exports, our consumers are the beneficiaries. Why waste our own (tax) money trying to compete if we get the benefits of their unfair competition?

If country A exports airplanes and A's government subsidizes them to sell at a 50% discount, that benefits American consumers (or businesses like airlines, as may be the case here) by cutting their cost of business. If our own aerospace companies can't sell them for that cheap, then let capital re-allocate to a different industry where we are competitive. We're already getting the cheaper goods (at the expense of country A), so why pay the expense ourselves too?

Link: http://www.realclearmarkets.com/articles/2014/11/10/the_hidden_truth_behind_inequality_statistics_101381.html

A good article, particularly for readers who are new to the inequality debate.

Summary paragraphs:

These CBO reports are well known, as are plenty of other analyses of the distribution of consumption or purchasing power rather than income. Thus, while the Occupy-style protestors may not know the difference, many of the academic and political voices from the left that you hear bemoaning the increase in income inequality know the difference between pre-tax and post-tax, post-government benefits inequality. They are making a conscious choice to overstate the problem in order to claim support for their preferred political outcome.

Until the government disappears and everyone's pre-tax income is the same as their purchasing power, the distribution of pre-tax income would seem to be of little value. Many people probably cannot even tell you their gross pay; they only know the net amount they take home in their check. Anyone who wants to have a serious discussion about inequality should be focused on how much people are able to consume and save since those are the things that matter. Concentrating on the proper facts will make the debate better and a solution to any problem more likely.

Link: http://online.wsj.com/articles/kimberley-strassel-yes-virginia-there-is-a-senate-race-1413502713

Was feeling putting Mark Warner out of a job as my home state U.S. senator was pretty hopeless, until I saw this:

Yet this past week Mr. Warner’s image began to crumble. In June, Democratic state Sen. Phil Puckett abruptly resigned, throwing control to Republicans and derailing Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe ’s top priority, which is to expand Virginia’s Medicaid program. Within a week, federal investigators were probing whether Republicans had dangled a job for Mr. Puckett in return for his resignation.

That investigation is now producing quite different details. The Washington Post last week revealed it was Mr. Warner who called the Puckett family to discuss the possibility of a federal judgeship or corporate gig for Mr. Puckett’s daughter, as a means of getting him to stay in the Senate.

This revelation was made worse by news that Mr. Warner seems to have been acting for the McAuliffe administration. Mr. McAuliffe’s chief of staff had left his own message on Mr. Puckett’s phone: “If there’s something that we can do [for your daughter], I mean, you know, we have a couple of big agencies here that we still need agency heads,” ran the message. “So we would be very eager to accommodate her, if, if that would be helpful in keeping you in the Senate. We, we would basically do anything.”

Sounds pretty bad for Warner (for McAuliffe more so). That's good, because I don't like their policies or their politics.

Link: http://online.wsj.com/articles/mark-perry-and-michael-saltsman-about-that-ceo-employee-pay-gap-1413150999

An excellent article debunking the pay gap myth.

The crux of the argument:

[The AFL-CIO] points to a 331-to-1 gap in compensation between America’s chief executives and the pay of the average worker.

That’s a sizable number. But don’t grab the pitchforks just yet.

The AFL-CIO calculated a pay gap based on a very small sample—350 CEOs from the S&P 500. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 248,760 chief executives in the U.S. in 2013.

The BLS reports that the average annual salary for these chief executives is $178,400, which we can compare to the $35,239-per-year salary the AFL-CIO uses for the average American worker. That shrinks the executive pay gap from 331-to-1 down to a far less newsworthy number of roughly five-to-one.

Link: http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/why-rand-paul-is-different/

Interesting introductory article to the Pauls and their different approaches to Republican/libertarian integration.

Link: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/389125/gelded-age-kevin-d-williamson

Nicely written summary of why the inequality issue is dumb.

I thought this was a great paragraph:

The inequality-based critique of the American economy is a fundamentally dishonest one, for a half a dozen or so reasons at least. Claims that the (wicked, wicked) “1 percent” saw their incomes go up by such and such an amount over the past decade or two ignore the fact that different people compose the 1 percent every year, and that 75 percent of the super-rich households in 1995 were in a lower income group by 2005. “The 3 million highest-paying jobs in America paid a lot more in 2005 than did the 3 million highest-paying jobs in 1995” is a very different and considerably less dramatic claim than “The top 1 percent of earners in 1995 saw their household incomes go up radically by 2005.” But the former claim is true and the latter is not.

If I had a nickel for every time someone used that "top 1 percent" line, I'd be in the top 1 percent.

Link: http://equitablegrowth.org/research/addressing-broader-questions-economic-growth-inequality/

This article came out today from the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, a left-wing think tank that reports on income inequality issues. It reports the findings of the Census Bureau's Income and Poverty in the United States: 2013 that came out earlier this month. It is packed with lies.

For example, the author Robert Lynch states this:

None of the measures in the report indicates any reduction in income inequality in 2013 relative to 2012. By every measure, income inequality in 2013 was higher than in previous years or equally as high as has ever been reported by the Census bureau since it started collecting these data in 1967.

Here are just two cases in point. The household income at the high earning 90th percentile was 12.1 times greater than the income of the household at the low earning 10th percentile—the widest gap ever reported by the Census Bureau. Similarly, the Gini index of income inequality, one of the most commonly used measures of income inequality, was 0.476 and indistinguishable from the record high of 0.477 reported in 2012 and 2011.

...By every measure, income inequality is at a record high or on par with the record highs reported by Census in 2012 and 2011.

There are four measures in the report to do with annual household income inequality: (1) Gini index; (2) Mean logarithmic deviation of income; (3) Theil index; and (4) three Atkinson indexes. Mr. Lynch knows this--he explains these four measures in the paragraph prior to the two cited above. He also adds a fifth measure that the report includes separate from the other four: Household Income percentile ratios. Why did he add this one? Well, let's see.

Let's look at Mr. Lynch's assertion, "By every measure, income inequality in 2013 was higher than in previous years or equally as high as has ever been reported by the Census bureau since it started collecting these data in 1967." Actually, by every measure (except the fifth one he added), household income inequality in 2013 was lower than in 2012 and 2011! Gini was 0.476 in 2013 (0.477 in 2011 and 2012). MLDI was 0.578 (0.586 in 2012 and 0.585 in 2011). Theil was 0.415 (0.423 in 2012 and 0.422 in 2011). And Atkinson was lower in 2013 than in both 2011 and 2012 for all three indexes. The only measure which he can cite that supports his assertion is the measure that he added, that is not included as a "summary measure": the 90/10 ratio. Funny how that's the principal one that he illustrates with an example (the other one was the Gini, which had the most modest decline of the report's summary measures). If he exampled the data of any of the others, people wouldn't need to look at the report (as I did) to conclude he was a liar and stop reading.

Of course, in his defense he would say that the decreases in these measures are "small" or "not statistically significant". They are small, but no smaller than the typical change in these measures year-by-year. It is not like these measures have had steady increases and then just plateaued. They went down. All of them.


The bottom line is that after nearly five years of economic recovery and growth in national income most Americans have not experienced an increase in their earnings while the earnings of those at the top have largely returned to their pre-recession level. The wages of men in particular have stagnated while women, children, and people of color have suffered in disproportionate numbers from the ravages of poverty.

Actually, most Americans have experienced an increase in their earnings. Changes in society-wide averages don't reflect this because of a dynamic-slope effect: the composition of people in the average changes. And how can women have suffered disproportionately if there is a "reported improvement in the female-to-male earnings ratio, from 77 cents on the dollar in 2012 to 78 cents last year", as Lynch says earlier in his article? And how can "children" and "people of color" have suffered disproportionately if Lynch reports earlier in his article that "Almost the entire decline in poverty is attributable to a reduction in the poverty of children under the age of 18 alongside a reduction in the poverty rate of Hispanics."

The WCEG's mis-reporting of the facts is not just typical left-wing spin. It is lying.

Link: http://www.cato.org/publications/commentary/economists-arguments-against-obamacare-lawsuits-backfire?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+CatoRecentOpeds+%28Cato+Recent+Op-eds%29

The linked article was in the Washington Times yesterday.


...Rather than rely on democracy to fix things, the trio is promoting something much worse than a bad health care bill; namely, the creation of new taxes and government subsidies outside the legislative process.

The Halbig and King plaintiffs make a startling yet credible case that with each passing month, the government is unlawfully handing billions of taxpayer dollars to private insurance companies, and subjecting more than 50 million Americans to illegal taxes. Agree or disagree, the need for final resolution of these cases is obvious and pressing. Only the Supreme Court can provide it.

The government’s allies know the longer it takes to resolve these cases, the more Americans will become dependent on those payments, which will prejudice the courts against the plaintiffs. To avoid prejudice, the Supreme Court should review King immediately, without waiting for lower courts to readjudicate Halbig.

Link: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sean-mcelwee/five-reasons-why-democrac_b_5858160.html

This article caught my eye.

The author frames the situation well in the opening sentence:

One of the most longstanding hopes (on the left) and fears (on the right) about democratic politics is that voters of modest means will use their electoral weight to level the economic playing field. In a market economy, the median voter's income will invariably be below the national average creating an apparently compelling opportunity for a politics of redistribution.

The mean-income-is-higher-than-the-median is a well-known theoretical explanation for redistribution in public choice circles, but is also known as being simplistic. McElwee goes on to cite some pretty obscure reasons why the bottom half don't soak the top half:

  1. Mobility. People don't soak the top half because they believe they will be there one day. This is the best reason McElwee comes up with, and makes a lot of sense. But he argues that people over-estimate their mobility and thus should discard this reasoning; but even if they do, that's not a reason to throw it away entirely. At any positive level of mobility, progressive taxes make people worse off to the extent that they care about getting ahead in life.
  2. Solidarity. This is a confused argument along the lines that people just want to get along. Not buying it.
  3. Political misrepresentation. McElwee argues that the sentiment for redistribution is there, but it doesn't translate into policy. I don't think the sentiment is anything close to what his opening sentence believes it should be. But there is some truth to this point. Maybe the elites just know the ineffectual and counter-productive nature of redistributionist policies. Case in point: economists are generally against increases in the minimum wage, the uninformed voter is generally for it.
  4. Interest-group politics. Again, this "linkage problem" of democracy would be supported if the American people actually had a desire for redistribution.
  5. Racial conflict. Laughable. But this points to something McElwee apparently misses: people don't just vote redistribution or not, and often don't just vote their pocketbooks. A lot of downscale voters don't like redistributive parties for many reasons.

Which brings us to the number one reason that the median voter, and people below the median, don't try to soak the rich. Morality.

No matter if their morality is deontological (taking from others is inherently bad) or utilitarian (taking from others produces bad results generally), enough people know that redistribution is wrong to counter-balance the median voter theorem whereby more people are below the average income than above it. If you consider that the self-interested voter hypothesis (whereby people vote instrumentally to enrich themselves) is widely discredited, it becomes clear that redistribution, at least the more naked forms of it, has little chance even in societies with great disparities in annual income.

Actually it is not that surprising that McElwee misses the moral angle, given the fact that he is advocating straight bare-naked redistribution. Such an idea may be theoretically interesting to public choice students (where it is referred to as "redistribution as taking"), but reflects the morality of a child who has yet to learn not to steal.

Another reason he misses is the golden-egg effect. Give voters credit for seeing beyond the immediate future. They have some sense that rich people will leave, or stop taking risks, or just work less if half their money is taxed to fund giveaways to people simply based on annual income. To continue to be able to tax the rich to fund important or justifiable programs is a reason not to kill the goose to just take the eggs once at a higher rate.

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