Posts tagged with: Income distribution

Why do some countries grow richer faster than others? How can we explain wealth disparities between countries? The answer: Growth rates.

Economist Alex Tabarrok explains how even small changes to growth rates can have a big effect on the economy of a country—and on the flourishing of its citizens.

the-new-york-times-website-is-back-after-two-hour-outageWhile it may be difficult to imagine, there was once an era when the New York Times was concerned about the poor.

Consider, for example, a 1987 editorial they ran with the headline, “The Right Minimum Wage: $0.00.” As the editors noted at the time,

[Raising the minimum wage] would increase unemployment: Raise the legal minimum price of labor above the productivity of the least skilled workers and fewer will be hired.

If a higher minimum means fewer jobs, why does it remain on the agenda of some liberals? A higher minimum would undoubtedly raise the living standard of the majority of low-wage workers who could keep their jobs. That gain, it is argued, would justify the sacrifice of the minority who became unemployable. The argument isn’t convincing. Those at greatest risk from a higher minimum would be young, poor workers, who already face formidable barriers to getting and keeping jobs. Indeed, President Reagan has proposed a lower minimum wage just to improve their chances of finding work.

Back then the federal minimum wage was $3.35 ($7 in 2015 dollars) and the editors of the Times had a basic understanding of economics. Today, their editorial board is apparently comprised solely of those completely ignorant about economics, for they published an editorial last week calling for wage to be raised to $15 a hour.

Their reasoning? No real justification is given other than that the government must do something. In their conclusion they write:
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consumptionWhat if told you that between 90-100 percent of Americans are living in “healthcare poverty.” You would probably object and say that while the country certainly has a healthcare crisis, my numbers are surely inflated. After all, most people in the U.S. have access to healthcare.

In reply, I explain that while it’s true most people are able to consume healthcare services, they are still in poverty since those services are paid for at least partially by the government or private insurance. You would probably respond that I seem very confused on this issue. And you’d be right.

Yet when we hear reports that between 14 and 16 percent of  Americans are living in poverty, few people bother to ask, “Are they talking about consumption or income?”

The reason it matters is the same reason that most Americans are not in “healthcare poverty”: they are able to consume more goods and services than they are able to pay for with their income. As James X. Sullivan, an economics professor at Notre Dame, has explained:
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Sales-taxImagine you’re at the checkout line at the supermarket and the clerk asks how much income your family earns each year. Offended, you ask why that is any of her business.

“We need to know to determine how much sales tax you need to pay,” the checker politely explains. “If you’re classified as the ‘working poor’ you need to pay more sales tax.”

“I think you have that backwards,” you helpfully add. “You mean the working poor need to pay less sales tax, right?”

“Oh, no sir,” she say, still blissfully cheerful. “It’s a new anti-poverty program initiated by the federal government that helps the poor by making them pay an addition sales tax on their groceries.”

Although it isn’t stated so clearly or applied so directly, the federal government has in fact implemented an “anti-poverty” initiative that does just that. As economist Thomas Macurdy says, “Most Americans wouldn’t cheer this program, nor would most political leaders champion it. Yet that is what happens when Congress raises the minimum wage.”

Earlier this year Macurdy published a study in the Journal of Political Economy that examined the effect of the minimum wage on the poor. As he explains in the Wall Street Journal, his findings show that the minimum wage serves as a tax on the poor:
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300px-GeocentrismGeocentrism was the belief that the sun, the planets, and all the stars revolve around the Earth. The alternative view—heliocentricism—had been around since the 3 BC but was not taken seriously until the 16th century AD. What seems obvious to us now was a matter of heated debated for almost two thousand years.

Economist Don Boudreaux says the minimum-wage debate in economics is rather like the reverse of this debate that took place centuries ago among astronomers.

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patricia-arquette-oscars-acceptance-speech-w724During last night’s Oscar ceremony, Best Supporting Actress winner Patricia Arquette used her acceptance speech to rail against unfair pay for women:

To every women who gave birth to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights. It’s our time … to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America.

The wage equality that Arquette is referring to is the gender wage gap—the difference between male and female earnings expressed as a percentage of male earnings. Because she frames the issue as a matter of equal rights, Arquette presumably believes that the problem is caused by intentional discrimination.

The gender wage gap certainly exists, but there is considerable debate about the size of the gap and whether it is caused primary by discrimination or by other factors, such as education and work hours. Much of the confusion is caused by the use of misleading statistics by politically motivated groups. For example, last night the Department of Labor (DOL) posted on their Twitter account:
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pic_giant_020915_SM_Paul-Preaching-Raphael“Christianity undergirded the development of Western liberalism (in the old, good sense of the word),” says Rich Lowry. In fact, without Christianity there would probably not be anything like what we conceive as true liberty:

The indispensable role of Christianity in the creation of individual rights and ultimately of secularism itself is the subject of the revelatory new intellectual history Inventing the Individual by Larry Siedentop. Here’s hoping that President Obama gives it a quick skim before he next takes the podium at a prayer breakfast.

Siedentop begins his story with the ancients. The Greeks and Romans of pre-history weren’t secular; the family was, as Siedentop calls it, a religious cult run by the paterfamilias and suffused with ritual and assumptions of social inequality. We are all pro-family, but we can agree that ancestor worship takes it a little far.

At this time, Siedentop points out, the key distinction wasn’t between the public and private spheres, but between the public and domestic spheres, the latter characterized by the family with its rigidly defined hierarchical roles. There was no space for the individual with his or her own rights.

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