Perry Glasser

WEALTH INEQUALITY

In Business, Economics, Economy, EDUCATION, Finance, Political Economy, Politics, TAXES on March 8, 2014 at 12:40 pm

bossy sisterWhenever my big sister played Monopoly, if the game was going against her she would toss the playing board in the air. My hotels and houses would scatter across the living room carpet as she shouted, “Salugi!” (a New York-ism pronounced “suh-LOO-gee”)and lunged across the table to confiscate most of my deeds, especially Boardwalk and Park Place.

When I was able to read the rules of the game, I learned there was no allowance for tossing the game in the air or confiscating my property. My sister was cheating! But since I was 8 and she was 14, she was able to meet my accusation by beating me up.

The History of Wealth Redistribution

My sister was a revolutionary.

To be sure, Dollar$ reminds readers that rebels object to rules, but revolutionaries rewrite them. Rebellions are common; revolutions are rare.

The folks who threw the board in the air in the past have cried, “Justice!” not “Salugi!” They had names like Washington, Lenin, Mao, and Castro.

Note that political persuasion—Left or Right—has nothing to do with revolutionary status. Mao and Washington might have discussed military tactics, but Dollar$ suggests they would have come to no agreement about economic systems or the function of government.

The Function of Governmentpreamble-20532-20120118-55

It’s less complicated than Monopoly.

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Washington (the dude on the $1) believed that the function of government was primarily to protect the rights of the individual, rights that most often needed protection from government itself. If no military personnel have been billeted in your living room, thank Washington.

Washington may have noted that to promote the general welfare required some redistribution of wealth to insure equal opportunity and to insure domestic tranquility, but that does not guarantee equality of status among citizens.

Washington’s pal was the first Secretary of the Treasury, Hamilton (the dude on the $20). Hamilton understood that wealth concentration in institution like banks were a social good, provided the bank used that concentration of wealth to fund the visions of a greater society, lending money to visionaries and giving stability to the economic infrastructure by protecting wealth from being squandered by a ruling class on personal indulgences. Hamilton, an orphan at 11 and the illegitimate son a British West Indies plantation owner, would likely not endorse a notion that the function of government was to protect the rights of the filthy rich to become obscenely rich.

The Situation Today

Some of Dollar$’s best friends sink into fuzzy thinking when talk comes around to how wealth is created and distributed in the United States. They lose sleep fearful that someone, somehow, somewhere, is leveraging assets to optimize profit.  They simple-mindedly believe that economics is a zero-sum game and cannot imagine economic growth. If an organization makes a dollar, someone must be a dollar poorer.

No. That simply is untrue. If it were so, you and I would enjoy the same standard of living as Washington and Hamilton. But the fact is that economies grow.  At issue is how they grow, not whether they should grow at all, though there are indeed some who think that a good idea, too.

The deluded friends of Dollar$ from time to time propose bold programs to redistribute wealth, programs they understand as pursuing Justice.

There two reasons those cannot and should not work.

1. Nowhere in the US Constitution will one find the word corporation. True, we reserve the right to free assembly, but that does not elevate any assembly of citizens devoted to profit a guaranteed right to speak lies in its advertising or compensate its directors and executive officers so rapaciously that shareholders who hope to partake of the boons of the system see their profit participation reduced by rapacious Buccaneers.

Oliver-Wendell-Jr-Holmes-9342405-1-402
Not Sherlock; not Mycroft, just Oliver

2. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. noted Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society. The idea is carved in stone on the IRS building in DC., but let’s note that corporations do not pay taxes, they collect them.  If you think they not, you are submitting to a distraction, a buy-in to the fallacy above.

Dollar$ hastens to explain that citizens are consumers. Tax us, and we bleed money. Bleeding, we consume or save less, neither of which are good things, though it does not follow consumers should not be taxed. Civilization is messy, but must be purchased. But to a corporation, taxes are a cost of doing business, like labor, supplies, and logistics.

Raise corporate tax rates, and corporations will only raise their prices.

Guess who pays the difference?

Today’s  Lesson

Remember, friends, we cannot pursue social justice by confiscating wealth. We can, however:

  • Limit executive compensation by law to some multiple of the lowest worker in an organization;
  • Create progressive income tax brackets that limit the shift of American wealth to the rich from the poor;
  • Lower repatriation taxes so that companies that keep their money off-shore are encouraged to bring it home where they can invest in more factories and create jobs here–better to collect 15 percent of something than 30 percent of nothing;
  • Demand that higher education is a matter of national security, and so to insure the blessings of liberty are  free to all;
  • To insure the blessings of liberty on ourselves and our posterity, give tax breaks to organizations that train employees instead of demanding that future employees borrow so much money to gain perceived needed skills that students have a choice of poverty of a life of indentured servitude;
  • Regulate publically traded corporations by disallowing aggregation of profits as cash without paying shareholder dividends, a means to share in that profit. Can we stop the nonsense that hoarding cash is good corporate financial strategy when all it does is spike share prices that are subsequently used to calculate executive performance compensation? (Are you listening Apple Computer?)
  • Return to personal income tax rates that  reflect the needs of our society. Under Eisenhower, we built the interstate highway system and taxed marginal income as much as 92 percent.

We don’t have to throw the game board in the air to start over again: all we need to do is play by the rules.

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  1. Very good point 🙂 If only we could establish good ‘rules’ in other places around the world too with inclusive political and economical institutions. Unfortunately, as noted in the ‘Why Nations Fail?” book, the majority of countries in this world are still lacking the basics.

    • If by “the basics” you mean “experienced the Enlightenment” I agree; if by “the basics” you mean resources, I do not.

      I’d also back off on “good rules.” It is not up to the US to decide what is good for other people. Our country will continue to make decade-long wars war on shepherds and goatherds as long as we delude ourselves that our foreign policy is best served by trying to export democracy or to persuade populations that are not nation states that their best interests lie in embracing principles that do not benefit potentates who have the full support and regard of their people. There are reasons that 1/3 of Saudi Arabia is unemployed that have nothing to do with wealth, and that in many parts of the world women are persecuted and mutilated for reasons that also have nothing to do with wealth.

      If we are not imposing “good rules” in developed countries like India and Saudi Arabia, perhaps they see no benefit to our culture. We can’t sell what they are not buying.

      • Under ‘basics’ I mean inclusive political and economical institutions – see details in my brief post based on the ‘Why Nations Fail?”

    • If only you’d stop trying to sell a book on my blog.

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