Herb Gintis reveals that his years on the left have transformed him into a man who buys the substantive argument of how the world works made by the right. Herb writes that more progressive income taxes are bad for the middle class in the long run:
Krugman should know that if the wealth were redistributed to the middle class, the US investment rate would fall, since the rich save their money and it is translated into investment, whereas the middle classes would spend their gains on consumption, thus driving out investment. A "soak the rich" policy simply cannot work to the advantage of the middle classes...
Marty Feldstein could not put it better.
Here is the whole review, on Amazon:
Amazon.com: H. Gintis' review of The Conscience of a Liberal: "Being progressive,'' says Paul Krugman in the concluding pages of The Conscience of a Liberal, "means being partisan." Like Krugman, my training lies in economics, but unlike Krugman, I am not partisan. Rather, I take a policy orientation to social issues: there are problems to be solved in order to enhance the lives of citizens, and it is our job to discover and publicize solutions to these problems.
Krugman's partisan stance only clouds the issues. For Krugman there is a "union movement" rather than a "bureaucratic labor aristocracy," critics of the welfare states want to "turn back the clock," rather than streamline and curb the inequities of the welfare state, conservatives have won by "exploiting cultural backlash" rather than by mounting a principled opposition to the explosion of crime, drug abuse, and single-headed households in a manner that resonates with the voting public. Critics of the wealth tax are "financed by a handful of [super-rich] families," with the public being ignorant dupes of the slick politicians.
This book epitomizes what is wrong with American liberalism. Krugman was a fine, perceptive international trade theorist, but he is a political hack, with nothing new to offer. There is one problem as far as Krugman is concerned: inequality. But inequality is an intellectual abstraction, not a politically motivating issue. People hated the Robber Barons because they were robbers and barons, not because they were rich. Oprah Winfrey and Bill Gates do not send the Pinkerton men out to protect their ill-gotten gains; nor to the other super-rich.
Socialists' ringing political slogans dealt with fairness, social progress, and power to the people, not "inequality." Moreover, a truly progressive movement must built on technical progress that is impeded by the reigning powers that be (Sam Bowles and I call this efficiency-enhancing egalitarian redistribution), not the beggar-thy-neighbor, zero-sum-game sort of redistribution favored by Krugman.
I suspect Krugman is correct in saying that the degree of inequality in the USA today is the product of politics, not economic necessity. This is because some advanced industrial countries have more equal distributions of income and wealth that the USA (e.g., France, Germany). But, these countries are plagued by bureaucratic inefficiency and deeply threatened by the "lean and mean" up-and-coming countries like Poland, the Baltic States, Romania, India, et al. The USA has purchased a thriving economy and full employment at the cost of having a bunch of super-rich families. Not a bad deal, after all.
Krugman's vision for the future has three key premises, all wrong.
First, he believes progressives can win on a platform of redistributing from the rich. However, no one cares about inequality. People care about injustice, unfairness, poverty, sexual predators, family values, gay marriage, terrorism, and many other problems of everyday life. People don't care about Gini distributions and other abstractions. Moreover, Krugman should know that if the wealth were redistributed to the middle class, the US investment rate would fall, since the rich save their money and it is translated into investment, whereas the middle classes would spend their gains on consumption, thus driving out investment. A "soak the rich" policy simply cannot work to the advantage of the middle classes.
Second, Krugman would strengthen the labor unions, which he credits for their egalitarian effects. However, unions were strong only when industry was highly non-competitive in such areas as automobiles and steel. The oligopolistic character of mid-twentieth century industry, with a few countries in the lead, made fighting over the excess profits highly rewarding. With globalization, there are no excess profits to be fought over. Thus, it is not surprising that most successful unions in the USA are public service, not private (e.g., teachers, government employees). There is no future in unionism, period.
Third, Krugman believes that liberalism can be restored to its 1950's health without the need for any new policies. However, 1950's liberalism was based on southern white racism and solid support from the unions, neither of which exists any more. There is no future in pure redistributional policies in the USA for this reason. Indeed, if one looks at other social democratic countries, almost all are moving from corporate liberalism to embrace new options, such as Sarkozy in France (French socialists have the same pathetic political sense as American liberals, and will share the same fate).
I am sorry that we can't do better than Krugman. There are very serious social problems to be addressed, but the poor, pathetic, liberals simply haven't a clue. Conservatives, on the other, are politically sophisticated and hold clear visions of what they want. It is too bad that what they want does not include caring about the poor and the otherwise afflicted, or dealing with our natural environment. Politics in the USA is no longer Elephants and Donkeys; it is now conservative Pigs and liberal Bonobos. The pigs are smart but only care about what's in their trough. The Bonobos are polymorphous perverse and great lovers, but will be extinct in short order.
One final comment. Herb "conservatives... are politically sophisticated and hold clear visions of what they want... too bad that what they want does not include caring about the poor and the otherwise afflicted, or dealing with our natural environment... conservative pigs... are smart but only care about what's in their trough" claims that he is non-partisan?