Angus Deaton [who wrote on deaths of despair] on our inequality

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June Zaccone

Oct 4, 2023, 4:58:46 PM10/4/23
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....Rare for an economist, Deaton offers a lucid and unsparing critique of America's political system. From healthcare to taxation to poverty to regulations, Deaton sees a system that has increasingly served monopolistic corporations and the rich over ordinary citizens, allowing "a minority to prey on the majority."
  • Less well-educated Americans have seen little or no improvement in their material circumstances for more than fifty years. For men without a four-year college degree, median real wages have trended downward since 1970."
  • "There are several million Americans — Black, white, and Hispanic — who live in households with per capita income of a few dollars a day and whose living standards are arguably as bad as or worse than those that the World Bank demarcates as destitute in India or Ethiopia."
  • "The top 10 percent of incomes in the United States account for nearly half of all income, compared with only 14 percent for the bottom half of incomes."
  • "Overall death rates in the United States have been rising, and, even before the pandemic, adult life expectancy has fallen for ten years for those without a four-year college degree.".....
Deaton sees economists as largely as complicit in the changes that have made life harder for millions of Americans. He argues that many (but not all) of the people in his profession have provided an intellectual legitimacy for a range of policies that have stripped away support for working-class Americans and forced them into an increasingly cutthroat labor market.

"They are apostles for the globalization and technical change that have enriched an elite and have redistributed income and wealth from labor to capital, all the while destroying millions of jobs, hollowing out communities, and worsening the lives of their occupants," Angus writes. "And when confronted with deaths of despair, they can blame the victims and those who try to help them."

Going forward, Deaton urges the economics profession to think more about "predistribution — the mechanisms that determine the distribution of income in the market itself, before taxes and transfers — and less about a redistribution that is not going to happen and is not what people want in any case." That, he stresses, will force many economists into "uncomfortable territory: promoting unions, place-based policies, immigration control, tariffs, job preservation, industrial policy, and the like. We need to promote a more realistic understanding of how governments and markets work. We need to abandon our sole fixation on money as a measure of human wellbeing."

This is wise policy. After income is already paid, many recipients are likely to resist relinquishing some. Predistribution avoids this. Methods include a national job guarantee at decent wages, though we should still consider a return to the higher taxes that predated Reagan.   jz

June Zaccone
National Jobs for All Network
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