Krugman counter-attacks on inequality

In: Uncategorized

23 Dec 2007

Paul Krugman has written a dispatch on his blog counter-attacking the criticisms against him in the Economist (see 21 December post). His main points:

“Inequality denial generally involves four dodges — all four of which are present in this article.

“First is a narrow technical issue — the misuse of the Consumer Expenditure Survey, which is used to claim that there hasn’t been much rise in spending inequality. First of all, that’s not true even if you believe the survey; plus, there’s good reason to believe that the Survey has been systematically underreporting the growth in higher-income-group consumption. See CBPP on all this.

“Second is the use of very long-run comparisons — what I think of as the “but even Louis the XIV didn’t have electricity!” defense. Yes, over the centuries economic progress has reduced some gross disparities — modern Americans are relatively unlikely to simply starve to death (though it can happen), so in that sense the gap between rich and poor has narrowed. But the question isn’t whether society is, in some sense, more equal than it was in 1900. It’s whether it is radically more unequal than it was in 1970. And of course it is.

“Third is the downplaying of poverty. Seventy percent of the poor have cars! They must be doing fine! Except that they often can’t afford medical care, sometimes can’t afford enough food, and usually can’t find a way to get their children a decent education.

“Finally, there’s the failure to appreciate just how rich today’s rich are. They’re not people who drive cars just like the rest of us, only fancier.”

Elsewhere on his blog Krugman includes an audio link to a speech he gave on The Conscience of Liberal at the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco.

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