Thursday, 31 July 2014

Tyler Cowen on inequality and what really ails America

Eduardo Porter writes-up an email interview he had with economics professor Tyler Cowen on the subject of inequality.

A few interesting questions:
Q: Inequality is running amok. The richest one percent of Americans pull more than a fifth of the nation’s income. The top 10 percent take half, more than during the Roaring Twenties. President Obama seems to believe this is “the defining issue of our time.” Is it?

A: “Income inequality” consists of at least three separate issues: 1) the top one percent is earning more; 2) the relative return to education is rising; and 3) economic growth is slow, and thus many lower- and middle-income groups are not seeing their incomes rise very much over time. The third of these is arguably the defining issue of our time. Grouping these issues all together under the broad heading of “income inequality” I view as a big intellectual mistake.

Q: So should we worry at all about the chasm opening up between the income of the rich and the rest?

A: I worry about stagnation in the middle and towards the bottom, not the income gap per se. A lot of the income growth at the top has come from globalization; for instance, Apple now sells a lot of iPhones to China. That’s not something we should be worried about. Rather, we should celebrate it.

Q: So, your conclusion is we should obsess less about rising inequality in America.

A: We should focus policy on increasing the quality and affordability of housing, health care and education, and on raising the rate of technological advancement. If we did that, we wouldn't have to worry about this red herring of “inequality” writ large any more.

By the way, the biggest inequalities are those across borders. So if we are talking policy, how about a more liberal immigration policy for the United States? That should be the No. 1 priority for anyone concerned about income inequality.

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