Paul Krugman has an interesting piece in which he argues that huge disparities in incomes undermine the dignity of the worst-paid workers. This sentence struck me most:
we live in the age of the angry billionaire, furious if anyone should suggest that his wealth doesn’t entitle him to acclamation as well as luxury.
On that topic, I’m inviting all American billionaires to attend a talk at the Stanford Center for Ethics in Society on Thursday where I will be arguing that the billionaire has a duty not to be rich. [If you’re not a billionaire, you’re equally welcome.] I think there are a couple of good arguments to give for this view, including arguments along the line that Chris wrote here recently. I’ve presented these arguments before to British, Dutch and mixed European audiences, and am curious whether the reactions of Americans will be different.
I’m prepared to be surprised. Even more so given a scene that happened on Sunday at a plantation in Louisiana that I visited, after a great tour in which I learnt a lot about the horrible conditions under which slaves had been working so that the plantation owners could build their wealth:
Me [asking a sales person in the plantation shop]: “How much should I tip the tour guide? What is the custom?”
Now if even an ordinary American, working on a former slavery plantation where he is every day reminded of a past of exploitation and gross violations of human dignity, believes that ‘decent wages’ implies ‘socialism’, then I start to understand that Krugman faces an uphill battle generating a reasonable debate about income inequality and human dignity. Let’s just hope that my encounter at the plantation wasn’t representative for the range of categories in which people are thinking.
Pat Arneson, firstname.lastname@example.org
New Book: COMMUNICATIVE ENGAGEMENT AND SOCIAL LIBERATION: JUSTICE WILL BE MADE
Communicative Engagement and Social Liberation: Justice Will Be Made recognizes limitations in contemporary understandings that separate history and rhetoric. Drawing together ontological and epistemic perspectives to allow for a fuller appreciation of communication that shapes lived-experience, facets of the two academic disciplines are united in acts of communicative engagement.
Bill Coggin died on February 9, 2014, at his home in Bowling Green. He was born on December 3, 1948 in Malvern, Arkansas, to Bertha (Davis) and William Coggin. He is survived by his wife, Betty. He is also survived by their two sons, Robert and Martin; daughter-in-law, Hadley, four beloved grandchildren, Grace, Maggie, Emmett and Colleen; and brother, Charles.
I am thinking, a little bit, today, about the death of Win Horner and the death of Stuart Hall. In different ways, what I do today is only possible because of what they did before me.
I wonder whether others are sharing that feeling?
JAMAICAN CULTURAL theorist Stuart Hall has died aged 82, according to reports.
Hall, who grew up in Kingston, Jamaica, studied at Oxford and emerged as one of the Britain's leading sociologists.
Last autumn, Hall was brought to the big screen, in The Stuart Hall Project, a documentary and labour of love from acclaimed director John Akomfrah, for whom the academic is a personal hero.
In my book, Zombie Economics, I started the account of macroeconomics with the observation Macroeconomics began with Keynes. Before Keynes wrote The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money, economic theory consisted almost entirely of what is now called microeconomics. The difference between the two is commonly put by saying that microeconomics is concerned with individual markets and macroeconomics with the economy as a whole, but that formulation implicitly assumes a view of the world that is at least partly Keynesian.
Long before Keynes, neoclassical economists had both a theory of how prices are determined in individual markets so as to match supply and demand (“partial equilibrium theory”) and a theory of how all the prices in the economy are jointly determined to produce a “general equilibrium” in which there are no unsold goods or unemployed workers. I went on to observe how the pre-Keynesian approach had been revived by the “New Classical” school, and how the apparent convergence with “New Keynesian” economics had been shown to be illusory after the failure of Dynamic Stochastic General Equilibrium models to deal with the 2008 financial crisis and the subsquent, still continuing, depression.
With all of this, though, I still never thought of academic macro, in either saltwater or freshwater form, as being a simple reversion to the pre-Keynesian notion of general equilibrium, with no concern about aggregate demand or unemployment, even in the short run. It turns out that, at least for a large segment of the profession, this is quite wrong. I’ve just received a book entitled Big ideas in Macroeconomics: A nontechnical view by Kartik Athreya, an economist at the Richmond Federal Reserve who made a splash a few years back with a piece entitled Economics is Hard. Don’t Let Bloggers Tell You Otherwise, which, unsurprisingly, did not endear him to bloggers. As a critic of mainstream macro, I’m briefly mentioned, and I just got a review copy.
The new book is an attempt to simplify things, and indeed it has proved enlightening to me and also to Herb Gintis who contributes a blurb on the back, commending it as an accessible and accurate description of the dominant way of thinking about macroeconomics.
The easiest way to see why the book is so striking is to list some topics that do not appear in the index (and are not discussed, or only mentioned in passing, in the text). These include: unemployment, inflation, recession, depression, business cycle, Phillips curve, NAIRU, Taylor Rule, money, monetary policy and fiscal policy.
By contrast, the book includes a lengthy treatment of such topics as Bayes-Nash equilibrium in game theory, intertemporal optimization of consumption and the theory of mechanism design.
If you think that this sounds like Hamlet not merely without the Prince, but without anyone in Elsinore, from King Hamlet’s Ghost to Fortinbras, that’s because you are expecting the wrong play.
In Athreya’s world, and that of a large part of the academic macroeconomics profession, macroeconomics does indeed begin with Walras, and the first modern development in the field was the formalization of Walras’ model by the economic theorists Arrow, Debreu and MacKenzie in the 1950s. The big subsequent development is the integration of growth theory into the static ADM framework to generate the modern dynamic stochastic general equilibrium (DSGE) models. Keynes’ 1936 ‘essay’ is treated as a curiosity, too vague and wordy to permit any real analysis.
This has the odd effect that many of the leading Keynesians of the postwar era (including Samuelson, Solow and the unjustly neglected Australian economist Trevor Swan) are given respectful cites for their work on growth theory, even as (what they would have regarded as) their macroeconomic work is dismissed as being too silly even to be refuted. Even Milton Friedman is treated similarly, with his intertemporal consumption model being praised, while his adaptive expectations model of inflation is ignored. Real macro (that is, Walrasian GE applied to issues like the business cycle) begins, in this analysis, with Robert Lucas in the late 1970s.
All this gives me a bit more insight into the apparent convergence in macroeconomics in the early years of this century, and its breakdown in 2008. The New Keynesians understood themselves as having met their New Classical colleagues halfway, with DSGE models which were Keynesian in character, at least in the short run, while meeting the demands for rigorous microeconomic foundations. Meanwhile, the New Classical school were quietly snickering whenever Keynes’ name was mentioned, but were prepared to concede the possible existence of largely unspecified market “imperfections”, whose only role in practice was to justify a policy of inflation targeting.
The crisis that erupted in 2008 destroyed this spurious consensus. On any kind of Keynesian view, New or Old, the combination of high unemployment and zero interest rates implied that the economy had been driven into a Keynesian liquidity trap, with a need for fiscal stimulus on a massive scale. By contrast, for the New Classicals, a disaster of this kind could only be the result of government failure (or, in places where they still mattered, the pernicious actions of trade unions). Since this was implausible, New Classical economists have generally preferred to reassert dogma without too much attention to facts.
Broadly speaking, as far as academic macroeconomics is concerned, DSGE has won the day, not so much by force of argument as by maintaining control of the criteria for publication of journal articles in the field: it’s OK to assume full employment, and ignore inflation, but not to omit rigorous microfoundations for your model. On the other hand, with the collapse of the intellectual case for austerity (though not its political dominance), the terms of public debate are set almost entirely by New Old Keynesians like Krugman and DeLong (that’s true, even if you don’t believe, as I do, that the outcome of that debate has been a knockout win for the Keynesian side).
The result is that there is almost zero intersection between Big Ideas in Macroeconomics and what I would think of as macroeconomics. It’s not so much that I think Athreya is wrong is that we are talking past each other. As Charles Goodhart said of DSGE, Athreya’s version of macro excludes everything in which I am interested.
A little while ago, Ross Douthat tweeted a link to this Aeon article of mine, reflecting on Keynes ‘Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren’, which gave rise to some interesting discussion (Memo to self: Find out about Storify). Now he’s addressed the topic in the New York Times, linking directly to Keynes essay. There’s some interesting food for thought here. Unfortunately, it’s mixed up with some silly stuff reflecting his job as the NY Times token Republican, in which capacity he has to do some damage control over the exposure of the latest Repub lie saying that Obamacare will cost 2.5 million jobs. As Douthat delicately puts it “this is not exactly right”. But, although his heart clearly isn’t it, he tries to construct a narrative in which the Repubs might be right for the wrong reasons, or, in an even less-felicitous defence, mean-spirited and inaccurate but justified by the success of Reaganism thirty years ago.
More interesting though, is Douthat’s discussion comparing idealised hopes for a post-work society with the reality in which well-educated professionals are working longer hours than ever, while many at the bottom end of the income distribution, particularly poorer men have withdrawn from the formal labour force altogether (presumably, relying on disability benefits or scraping a living in the informal economy). One possible solution to this problem, is simply to give the poor more money, for example, in the form of a basic income, and not worry about whether they choose to work. Douthat isn’t too happy about this idea, sayingBoth “rugged individualist” right-wingers and more communitarian conservatives tend to see work as essential to dignity, mobility and social equality, and see its decline as something to be fiercely resisted. The question is whether tomorrow’s liberals will be our allies in that fight.
But this position elides a bunch of crucial issues.
First, while work may be necessary to “dignity, mobility and social equality” in a market society, it certainly isn’t sufficient. For unionised US workers in the mid-20th century, earning middle-class incomes in relatively secure jobs and expecting better for their children, work was, arguably both necessary and sufficient to achieve a fair measure of these things. But an at-will employee, juggling two or three tenuous jobs that pay $7.25 an hour, and looking at a steady decline in real income, is scarcely getting much in the way of dignity, let alone mobility or social equality.
Equally importantly, market work isn’t the only kind of work people can do, and certainly not the most valuable. Most obviously, there’s the raising of children. The US the developed countries that does not provide any kind of paid parental leave, and even the legislative provision for unpaid leave (12 weeks a year for mothers in firms with more than 50 employees, nothing for fathers) is incredibly stingy. The idea that the ‘rugged individualists’ who block any improvements to these conditions actually care about the dignity of the working class is simply laughable.
I don’t need to tell Douthat any of this. It’s all in his book Grand New Party with Reihan Salam, notably including a proposal for a full year of paid parental leave. The book received cautiously respectful reviews from many in the centre and centre-left, but fell entirely flat with its intended audience in the Republican Party.
I’ll have a bit more to say about the kind of technological determinism that seeks to explain labour market polarisation as arising from computers and the Internet a bit later. For the moment, I’ll repeat the conclusion of my Aeon essay that a response to technological change that will preserve the link between work, dignity and equality will require both a reduction in total hours of work and an expansion in the range of social contributions regarded as work, beyond those that generate a market return
Finally, coming back to the argument about Obamacare. Whatever your views on work and incentives, it’s ludicrous to regard as beneficial a system that ties people to their current jobs through the fear of losing health insurance. The result is not just that people work longer hours than they would choose to do at the wages on offer: they are stuck with their current employer until they can find a new job offering comparable health benefits, something that is getting increasingly difficult to do.
The employer-based health insurance system was (like Obamacare in many ways) a kludge adopted1 because it was better than nothing, and because a sensible single-payer system couldn’t get through Congress. But it’s been broken for years, and can’t be sustained indefinitely.
Again, Douthat is clearly aware of all this, but can’t say so in his current position. I’m still expecting him to jump ship before too long, and I hope he doesn’t go through too many more exercises like this in the process.
Yep, I did it. Love me if you like. Hate me if you have to. Officially, the course starts tomorrow, but we were ready so we flipped the switch.
[UPDATE: Probably I should mention this, in case people don’t know about Coursera. It’s free and you can just sign up now and take the course, if you care to.]
Here’s what I have learned so far. It took me a really really long time to prepare. (And I’m still not done.) One of the main worries about MOOC’s, of course, is that they will accelerate the adjunctification of the profession. That’s a serious concern, which I share. But doing all this work has left me with increased respect for the quiet efficiency of our old-fashioned, medieval, live lecturing ways.
I can give a decent 90 minute Plato lecture with just a few PPT slides and a half hour to collect my thoughts. This Coursera thing was way more labor-intensive. I’m embarrassed even to admit how many dozens of hours it took to prepare for each 90 minute recording session. This does not, of course, refute concerns that this new form will accelerate adjunctification. We can talk about it.
Allegedly I have 34,000 students on Coursera. (People are funny!) I am simultaneously using this material ‘internally’ at my own school to teach a class of just 100 students. I am doing a ‘flipped classroom’ thing. The idea being: contact time is not lecture time but discussion time. We’ll see how it goes.
It was fun making illustrations to go with all my lectures. I used lots of old images from my book [amazon] and made new ones. Good excuse for a spot of cartooning. (More than a spot. Who am I kidding?)
The first two weeks are on Euthyphro, so I’ll just share one illustration. I guess I could call it “Goya McKronos Kronos”. Possibly it is an allegory of MOOC’s eating traditional academic teaching. (Click for larger.)
I do believe that doing this sort of thing makes sense. (Not the cartooning. The MOOC’ing.) I hope it works out and isn’t a disaster.
As many of you probably know, the Yale political scientist Robert Dahl has died. The Monkey Cage is promising to post personal reflections from a former student next week, but in the meantime they have a roundup of the various obituaries. The Times obituary was quite good. I found this passage especially arresting.
Professor Dahl, who taught at Yale for 40 years, provided a definition of politics memorized by a generation of students: “The process that determines the authoritative allocation of values.”
When I first read that, I thought to myself, “Wow, Dahl was more of a Nietzschean than I realized.” I’ve only read a few of Dahl’s books, but I hadn’t ever stumbled across that particular statement or sentiment in any of them. I posted it on Facebook with the header, “Bob Dahl, Nietzschean.”
But then I googled it and couldn’t find Dahl saying it anywhere, save in the Times. And then I got suspicious. Wrongly attributed statements, as readers here may remember, are a bit of an obsession of mine. So I asked around on Facebook, and thanks to the efforts of Harrison Fluss, who’s a philosophy grad student at Stonybrook, and Rafael Khachaturian, who’s a poli sci grad student at Indiana University, I was able to piece together the following letter to the writer of the Times obit. I hope they manage to make a correction. If they don’t, they might be unwittingly inaugurating decades of misconception.
If I’ve gotten any of it wrong, feel free to correct me in the comments. As I say, I’ve only read a few of Dahl’s books; I’m by no means an expert.
• • • • •
Dear Douglas Martin:
Many thanks for your wonderful obituary of Bob Dahl, who I knew distantly when I was a grad student in political science at Yale. I believe, however, that there may be an error in the obituary. You write:
Winifred "Win" Bryan Horner passed away Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014, in Columbia.
A celebration of Dr. Win Horner's life will be held in the spring.
QED: A Journal in GLBTQ Worldmaking (http://msupress.msu.edu/journals/qed/), issue 1.1 “Chelsea Manning’s Queer Discontents,” is now out! QED is now on Project Muse: http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/qed_a_journal_of_glbtq_worldmaking/
Charles E. Morris III &Thomas K. Nakayama, “Introduction: Leaking Chelsea Manning”
February 06, 2014
Job Description: Executive Director
Twitter has announced a data grants program, which sounds potentially exciting as it’s nice when academics can gain access to resources (in this case, if I’m reading it correctly, that means data).
Before proceeding to the application form, however, you have to accept their “Data Grant Submission Agreement v1.0”. That’s not something academics often have to do when applying for grants, but I appreciate that Twitter may need to cover some ground in this domain. This is where things get confusing quickly though, at least to this scholar with no legal background. I quote to you what I found the most intriguing (not in a good way):
You or the owner of the Content still own the copyright in the Content, but by submitting Content to Twitter, you are granting Twitter an unconditional, irrevocable, non-exclusive, royalty-free, fully paid-up, fully transferable, perpetual and worldwide license to evaluate, use, copy, perform, display, publish, transmit, or create derivative works of the Content, or to authorize third parties to evaluate, use, copy, perform, display, publish, transmit, or create derivative works of the Content in any format and on any platform, either now known or hereinafter invented. Twitter will own any derivative works it (or its authorized third parties) creates from the Content. You hereby waive all copyright, trademark, trade secret, patent and other intellectual property right claims you may have against Twitter for evaluating, using, copying, performing, displaying, publishing, transmitting, or creating derivative works of the Content.
Just to clarify, all applicants have to agree to this, not just the recipients of their grants.
In contrast, here you are to give Twitter license to publicize your ideas including to folks who may then have the precise data set with which they can pursue your ideas. That may not be Twitter’s intent, but it is legally covered to do so.
This seems rather problematic to me and am very curious to hear how other people read the agreement, especially from an academic researcher’s perspective, but other perspectives welcomed as well. Also, legally speaking, can anyone help me understand what rights the owner of Content has in this scenario that are different from what Twitter can do with said Content? The licensing seems so expansive, I don’t understand what the original owner is left with. Is the issue that at least you still have the right to work on your ideas without Twitter’s permission?
The American Society for the History of Rhetoric 2014 Symposium
As you make your travel plans for RSA, please consider attending the American Society for the History of Rhetoric's 2014 Symposium. Titled "Rhetoric and Freedom," and held in the Marriot Rivercenter immediately prior to RSA (May 22-23), the ASHR Symposium is FREE to attend.
This post has been put up to allow commenters to engage in discussion on the academic freedom issues raised here. We ask commenters to debate the issues here, not there: the comments section for the original post is reserved for signatures to the letter.
Academics and commentators—including Crooked Timber bloggers—disagree over the American Studies Association’s decision to endorse an academic boycott of Israel. There should be far less disagreement over two bills recently proposed in New York’s and Maryland’s state legislatures. These bills prohibit colleges and universities from using state monies to fund faculty membership in—or travel to—academic organizations that boycott the institutions of another country. Designed to punish the ASA for taking the stance it has, these bills threaten the ability of scholars and scholarly associations to say controversial things in public debate. Because they sanction some speech on the basis of the content of that speech, they run afoul of the US First Amendment.
We write as two academics who disagree on the question of the ASA boycott. One of us is a firm supporter of the boycott who believes that, as part of the larger BDS movement, it has put the Israel-Palestine conflict back on the front burner, offering much needed strategic leverage to those who want to see the conflict justly settled. The other is highly skeptical that the ASA boycott is meaningful or effective, and views it as a tactically foolish and entirely symbolic gesture of questionable strategic and moral value.
This disagreement is real, but is not the issue that faces us today. The fundamental question we confront is whether legislatures should punish academic organizations for taking politically unpopular stands. The answer is no. The rights of academics to partake of and participate in public debate are well established. Boycotts are a long recognized and legally protected mode of political speech. The purpose of these bills, as some of their drafters admit, is to prevent organizations like the ASA from engaging in this kind of speech and to punish those organizations if they do—merely because the state disapproves of the content of that speech. For these and other reasons, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the New York Civil Liberties Union have declared their opposition to these bills.
The bills affect both of us directly as taxpayers (one of us lives in New York State, the other in Maryland) and as working academics. But they also potentially have much broader consequences. One hundred and thirty-four members of Congress have signed a letter condemning the ASA, and it is very likely that other state legislatures will take up similar bills, unless there is a public outcry.
We thus write not only to express our joint opposition to these bills but also to invite others who share our opposition to express it by signing below (those who want to debate the underlying questions rather than sign should not do so here, but in this separate discussion post). We encourage you to share this statement with colleagues in your departments and professional associations, to urge them to adopt it or their own statements, and to take the necessary actions to oppose this type of legislation wherever it may arise.
More immediately, we encourage readers who live in New York State or Maryland to contact their state representatives, and if necessary, governors. Contact information for New York can be found here and here; for Maryland, here. While initial reports from New York this afternoon are positive—due to a flood of phone calls, a key committee chair in the Assembly has temporarily pulled the legislation for reconsideration—the bill’s backers in the Assembly intend to pursue some version of it. It has already passed the State Senate. Hence the need for continued and consistent pressure in both states.
Update (February 6)
The Washington Free Beacon is reporting that a bill has been introduced into the US House of Representatives that would cut off federal funding to any academic institution that boycotts the State of Israel. Though this bill does not immediately affect the ASA, which relies on no federal funding, it goes significantly beyond the legislation introduced in Maryland and New York. And may well have repercussions for the ASA insofar as it defines an institution’s participation in the boycott to mean, among other things, that “any significant part of the institution” —perhaps an academic department that voted with the ASA?—is boycotting the State of Israel.
According to The Forward, leaders in the New York State Assembly are retooling the bill and planning on introducing it at some point in the future.
Second Update (February 7)
The bill’s sponsor, Peter Roskam, makes it emphatically clear that the legislation is not intended to prevent academics from engaging on boycotts in general, but instead to punish them for boycotting some states rather than others. From his statement:It is ludicrous for critics to go after our democratic friend and ally Israel when they should be focusing on the evils perpetrated by repressive, authoritarian regimes like Iran and North Korea.
OK, so energy storage isn’t the most exciting topic in the world, but it really matters. The problem of energy storage (or changes in energy use that make it unnecessary) is the biggest remaining obstacle to a transition to renewable energy. So, here are some observations, labelled for convenience and partly derived from this study by the US Department of Energy
(a) Any reversible energetic process represents a potential storage technology. Reversibility entails that some energy is stored (as potential or chemical energy) when the process goes one way, and released when it goes the other. Of course, the Second Law of Thermodynamics implies that we will always add entropy (that is, lose useful energy) in this process
Here’s an older post, with a really simple example of how the argument works, once you get away from the fixation on replicating the characteristics of a coal-fired system.
The VW Super Bowl ad features German engineers. The story goes as such: every time a VW reaches 100,000 miles, one of the engineers in Germany gets “his wings”. I didn’t find the ad particularly interesting until I realized that none of the engineers getting wings were women. In fact, there were barely any women in the video. Most prominent was the one in the elevator getting slapped by a male engineer’s wings.
There were ten male engineers featured who clearly got wings. It looks like 13% of engineers in Germany are female. So even going just by that statistic, one of the 10 featured should have been a woman.
The agency responsible for the ad is San Francisco’s Argonaut. Who are they? It looks like they are a bunch of guys. That’s no excuse for the approach to women in the ad, but perhaps it explains it a bit.
In comments below, godoggo suggested that no self-respecting Jew would give a damn about what was in plain white bread ever. This may be the wrongest thing ever said on the internet. (Probably not, though.) roy belmont also wishes us to note that there are two senses of trolling, that in which you…oh, read the postscript.
godoggo: HONEY CHILE! YOU HAS BEEN DEPRIVED OF YOUR BIRTHRIGHT! DEE-LICIOUS WHITE BREAD, WHAT ALL HUMANS DESERVE! WE MUST RECKTIFY THIS AT ONCE’T!
You must let them cool off a bit before slicing them. This will be difficult as everyone will be standing in front of the loaves (which traditionally rested atop the closed washing machine in my youth) and hopping from foot to foot going “now? Can we eat it now? Now?” Under ideal circumstances my dad will have made you whole figs preserved in syrup with paper-thin slices of lemon, or Concord grape jelly, but whatever.
P.S. roy, roy, roy, roy. Naturally there is a difference between attempting to catch something with scales for lunch and waiting under the bridge for the trippy tapp tap of the billy goats’ hooves. But unless you intend to travel back in time and prevent Skynet usenet from being invented then there is no reason to belabor the point now. And one can imagine humorous pastiches: perhaps sensei, oni-like in appearance to the uninitiate but resembling Tripitaka otherwise, is sitting below the bridge, fishing in the stream? He both demands payment and keeps an eye on the float down there, bobbling in a stiller pool? Fercryinoutloud.
P.P.S. Mebbe he has even side-baited it with a big ole hunk of stale bread? (But it ain’t my dad’s I will tell you what. I don’t think in the last 30 years anybody’s done that. Made breadcrumbs or croutons, maybe, but fish bait? No sir they have not.)
P.P.P.S. When I was little and my parents were sort of um…anarcho-syndicalist punk hippies running a communal-ish farm? I wanted hair that looked like the Sunbeam Bread Girl. My mom was just like, nope, no, no missy. She did let me dye my hair with henna, though, that was cool.
In the UK the press and commentariat have been in a huff about Labour’s proposal to levy income tax at 50% on incomes above £150,000. This is supposedly “anti-business” and “sends the wrong signal”, despite the fact that the top rate was higher under Thatcher. Much noise also about the danger that “wealth creators” (whoever they are) may leave and go off to other jurisdictions, concern unaffected by the fact that lots of other countries tax those on high incomes at a steeper rate. All of this is to be expected of course, as is the fact that journalists, who, when spouting right-wing guff, claim to be “reflecting” the views of their readers, continue to spout it when those readers disagree, as in this case.
But this view is just plain wrong, for several reasons. First, in a complex society structured by all kinds of institutional rules, the idea that people have full liberal property rights in their pre-tax income is unwarranted. They participate in a co-operative venture with others in society subject to certain conditions, and those conditions include one that part of “their income” already belongs to the wider society, via the state. This point, hated by libertarians, defeats the widespread view that people are having “their money” take off them: it wasn’t theirs to start with. Though I think such an argument, with some caveats, is correct, it is a second and third consideration that I’d want to rely on here.
The second consideration is that inequality is deadly for democracy, and for the equal political status of citizens. Because the power and influence high earners derive from their income threatens such status equality, there is a strong public interest in constraining it, even if doing so raises no money at all. It isn’t just that the rich come to own media outlets or that politicians are swayed by their donations to parties, it is also that the prominence their cash gives them gets them listened to and taken seriously by opinion formers. Their experience matters and shapes public policy, that of an unemployed teenager in the North East doesn’t: we need to shift the balance of voice in favour of the unemployed teenager and against the City trader.
Third, income inequality makes life worse for the rest of us in real terms. Economists are supposed to believe that utility (whatever that is) matters intrinsically and money only matters instrumentally. But right-wing economists often seem to forget this as soon as they are asked to comment on tax policy and inequality, arguing as if their theorems apply to cash and not to utility. If we’re dealing in cash terms, then a tax that makes some people worse off and nobody better off looks bad, and looks Pareto inferior. But it isn’t necessarily Pareto inferior if we focus on well-being: making some cash poorer may make some others better off, a Pareto incomparable outcome. Here’s one way how: if those on high incomes have too much, they can outbid the rest of us for goods that are intrinsically in limited supply or where supply can’t be quickly increased. If I’m further away from being able to buy a house near to where I work, because house prices are raised in an auction I can’t compete in, then I’m worse off even if my income stays flat. Reducing the purchasing power of the wealthy is therefore good for me (unless I got hold of a house early and can earn windfall gains from the auction). And similarly for many other goods. Unrestrained income for the wealthy also means that they can commit more of their resources to ensuring that their offspring make it to the top in the next generation, thereby harming the opportunities for the rest of society.
I could go on and enumerate more mechanisms whereby squeezing high earners is good, even if it raises no money, but the general point should be clear. It should give Labour reasons to go on the offensive (“class war”); it certainly gives the commentariat reason to stop making their stupid talking point. They won’t, of course.
[Update: the originally posted text mis-stated the threshold, now fixed]