In yesterday’s Washington Post, E.J. Dionne wrote a column around this idea:
The central issue in American politics now is whether the country should reverse a three-decade-long trend of rising inequality in incomes and wealth.
Politicians will say lots of things in the coming weeks, but they should be pushed relentlessly to address the bottom-line question: Do they believe that a fairer distribution of capitalism’s bounty is essential to repairing a sick economy? Everything else is a subsidiary issue.
Apparently we can’t ask whether or not our current and prior attempts to achieve a “fairer” distribution of capitalism’s bounty contributed to our sick economy. Not that we have capitalism in the way that Dionne wishes to imply. The failings of a mixed economy do not prove that it’s time to toss the capitalism from the mix. Making that case requires a bit more than tossing around the undefined, subjective word fair and pretending that the argument is won.
As Dionne continues:
“Over the past two or three decades, the top 1 percent of Americans have experienced a dramatic increase from 10 percent to more than 20 percent in the share of national income that’s accruing to them,” said Peter Orszag, Obama’s budget director. Now, he said, was their time “to pitch in a bit more.”
Is there more direct proof that liberals view the rich as the nation’s piggy bank than claiming it’s time for the top 1 percent “to pitch in a bit more”? Does Orszag mean the top 1 percent who paid 39.89% of all federal income taxes in 2006? Dionne is saying that it’s okay to increase the existing unfairness in the tax code because the disparity in income at the extremes is unacceptable to his sense of fairness. He must ignore the question of whether or not the alleged victims of the unfairness of capitalism’s bounty are better off than they were in the past. He concludes:
Do we want to be a moderately more equal country or not? This is the question Obama has put before the nation. Let’s debate it without the distracting rhetorical sideshows designed to obscure the stakes in the coming battle.
I would ask something different: Do we want to be a more productive country or not? Does everybody gain, even if the distribution is “unfair”, or do we harm some to improve others in the short-term? Dionne has the wrong preference.