Friday, October 17, 2008

Reason #2: Also the economy

I promised to talk about "trickle up economics." Ideally, it means that money is put in the hands of poor and middle-class people, the money is used to buy things, and that helps the wealthy to flourish.

For a long while now, the other sort of trickle-up has been at work. We've cut social spending and indebted our grandkids in order to finance tax cuts for those who have the most. The incomes of the wealthiest have skyrocketed, while the median income is actually falling (adjusted for inflation). The folks on Forbes' list of the 400 wealthiest Americans have amassed more wealth than the bottom 20% combined.

Wealth inequalities of this scale don't just incite envy. They degrade society, by giving the privileged the power to rewrite the rules in their favor, to control the discourse that is vital to a democracy, and to increase their advantage by dipping directly into the public trough.

All this might be an acceptable trade-off, if lavishing such rewards on the few really drove the economy. But I don't find the claim credible. Talent and work ethic are far more equitably distributed than that. Moreover, the people who are the best at their jobs are usually the ones who are doing what they love, and couldn't be lured away from their profession for a small pay raise. If anything, outrageous pay would lure the greediest to try and trample over more effective leaders and more intelligent decision-makers.

That seems to be happening now. I've seen an amazing graph, which I can't seem to find right now. It plots worker productivity and median income over time. In the decades after World War II, the two rose in lockstep. As individuals were better able to create wealth, they reaped some of the reward for their own wealth creation.

But for the last, oh let's say eight years, a different picture has emerged. Productivity still increases, but median income goes flat, perhaps even trending down a bit. Does this mean that only the upper crust were doing more and better work, which only they were rewarded for? Or did the owners of businesses simply decide to redirect more wealth into their own wallets?

Just as Democratic presidencies create more jobs (see Reason #1), they also raise the median income nearly twice as fast as Republican administrations do. Only the truly wealthy see their lot improve under Republican presidencies.

So reason #2: vote for Obama, cuz I'd really love to buy me a dune buggy.

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