Thursday, January 12, 2012

Envy and Math

So I guess I am outsourcing most of my blog posts to others these days, but they are just saying things I think deserve to be repeated. This time it's Matt Yglesias in a post on Mitt Romney's comments about inequality concerns really being just envy.

This is the real issue here. There's a sense that a lot of us have that our public policy ought to be aiming to produce large gains for everyone. You often hear that for one reason or another the United States "can't afford" this or that. We "can't afford" to pay people Social Security benefits. We "can't afford" to build high-speed trains. We "can't afford" to give everyone early childhood education. But why can't we afford this stuff? Are we a poor country? No, we're not. We're one of the richest countries that's ever existed. Are we a poorer country than we used to be? No, we're not. But a very large share of the gains we've made over the past three decades have gone to a relatively small number of people. If the gains had been broadly shared, then the burden of paying for that basic infrastructure and public services would have to be very broadly shared. But the gains have been very concentrated, and so if we're going to afford that stuff, a large share of the revenue has to come from the people who've gotten the money. 
That's not envy, that's math.

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