"When the accumulation of wealth is no longer of high social importance, there will be great changes in the code of morals.
We shall be able to rid ourselves of many of the pseudo-moral principles which have hag-ridden us for two hundred years, by which we have exalted some of the most distasteful of human qualities into the position of the highest virtues"

( JM Keynes, "Economic Possibilities for our Granchildren" 1930 )

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Income Distribution ,Bubbles and the Finacial Media

An interest comment regarding the link Debt Bubbles -Income Distribution is presented in this post
The text was published last week at the Financial Times (FT) website and it´s not more than an answer from FT Chief economic Commentator (M. Wolf) to a question raised by a reader. I found the text very interesting as it reflects a seemingly stubborn position of avoiding any serious debate on the above link or alternatively the reejction of any alterantive proposal on economic, political, “theoretical” or practical ground. M. Wolf´s text (FT) is followed by my comments to highlight the main issues in the text

FT : “I am not at all sure about the link between inequality and the bubble. I think that the growth of the financial sector played an important role in increasing inequality in the US and UK. It helped a very small proportion of the population to extract a large amount of rent.”

First of all we can notice that the rise in inequality is undeniable but the real denial is the link to bankers´ greed (the preferred scapegoat) rather than referring to a possible systematic flaw. A serious answer should point to the question of WHY the financial sector expanded to a degree it became a danger to the system and what interests that expansion served. Another interesting point is the irrelevant focus on national (“US and UK”) perspective: even FT agrees that the economic system and the crisis are global, so any economic analysis should be done also from a global perspective.

FT : “…But I am not sure about the reverse causal relationship from higher inequality to the bubble. The argument would, I suppose, be that, lacking higher incomes, a large proportion of the population borrowed in order to sustain consumption. This is possible. But I do not know of any convincing arguments for the proposition”.

The FT previous affirmative tone turns to a more skeptic when he refers to “the reverse causal” (from inequality to bubbles) ,Is it because this causation might oblige us to deal with systematic flaws? Anyhow, this causation seems to be treated as some curious and rather exotic perspective “ I suppose… This is possible… “ are expressions of not taking too seriously the argument. The commentator bothers to specify that “there is no convincing argument for the proposition…”, although a coherent exposition should tell the reader if there are also (not convincing) arguments against the proposition: Maybe there are no evidences against the proposition? Anyhow, there is no mention of any real study about the topic, a weird intellectual lacuna for a discipline like economics that investigates extensively almost any human and social phenomena. Very weird indeed.

FT : “…..In any case, whatever the causal relationship, I cannot see how a more equitable distribution of income would now help solve the crisis. I suppose one might argue that it would increase sustainable consumption, though consumption already looks excessive in the US.

Despite the admission of the ignorance about the topic (“whatever…”), there is no doubt about the conclusion, which is declared in an affirmative tone: “An equitable distribution would not help to solve the crisis”….. So we already admitted that we don´t really know (or pretend that we don´t know) ANYTHING about the issue but we DO know that the solution is not that redistribution ? Doesn’t sound very coherent….

FT ” …I think one would have to argue, instead, that greater equality is a good in itself. The big question is how one could achieve it. There are limits, I think, to how much redistribution one can achieve through the redistribution of pre-tax incomes. So the aim should be to alter the distribution of pre-tax incomes themselves. I know of no easy way to do this, certainly not in the short run”

Now we leave the economic arena to the philosophy realm: Even if we agree that a more equitable society is desirable (which is not an economic issue …), the technical obstacle would be a substantial impediment. Were technical considerations relevant when governments rushed to pour trillions of taxpayer money into failing financial institutions creating the worst moral hazard behavior? How it comes that technical aspects become important whenever we deal with distribution policies, even those considered logical ?And if a measure is right for its own merits, should the easiness of its implementation be an obstacle?

As we have seen along that post, the level of the debate got plenty of room for improvement. Anyhow, the evident attempt to avoid a serious debate on that matter is becoming an unsustainable tactic, so I guess the media and the establishment will intensify the arguments against the calls for a more equitable distribution. On my opinion, the income and wealth more equal redistribution is not only justified by moral foundation but is the only way out from the sub consumption crisis we are stuck in.

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