After decades of growing inequality, our presidential election was a violent revolt against The Elites. So who the hell is actually trying to remedy that inequality frustrating our nation? The elites!
Not all elites. Only those who are currently the most despised.
Take Davos, for example. There is no easier symbol of The Motherfucking Elites in Their Bubble Sipping Champagne While the World Burns than Davos. Every year, the world’s power brokers gather in Davos and... sip champagne, probably, while giving speeches to one another. Indeed, were all of the attendees of Davos to be rounded up and forcibly taxed for everything they’re worth—eight of them are worth as much as the poorest 50% of the global population, by the way—our world would be much improved in every way. And I sincerely hope to live to see the day that this happens! Before we start raiding their pockets, though, perhaps we should take a few of their ideas.
Apart from the tech zillionaires and political functionaries and business titans at Davos are a bunch of economists and the leaders of various global economic institutions, both public and private. Ten of these textbook elites offered their ideas on how to make the world a fairer place. Their ideas, if implemented, would do more to promote equality in our society than anything the Republican (or Democratic!) party has done in decades.
Economics professor Diane Coyle said “I would pay teachers at schools in poor communities such high wages that the very best people would want to take the job.” Yale economist Robert Shiller said we should institute “automatic increases in the progressiveness of the income tax in response to increases in income inequality.” Political scientist and consultant Ian Bremmer said we should implement a financial transactions tax, to dampen Wall Street risk and help finance social programs. These three ideas alone would constitute a program of economic fairness more powerful than everything the U.S. government has done since the Great Recession. Any one of those ideas would amount to a more effective program of economic equality than the entire political platform of Donald Trump, who was the recipient of millions of votes from people seething with misdirected outrage at faceless elites.
Kenneth Rogoff, a famous Harvard economist, suggests “greater redistribution through taxes and transfers” as one of the best solutions to inequality. On one hand: duh. On the other hand: Welfare! This is the colorful handkerchief that the right wing waves in front of working class voters to persuade them to vote agains their own interests. We just witnessed a man who ran on a platform of abolishing taxes (on corporations and the rich, mostly) and transfers (like our national health care program) winning large swaths of lower-income middle America in convincing fashion, selling the underlying idea that the government only takes from you, the average person, and gives your hard-earned dollars to unknown others. Possibly brown people.
What does another elite have to say about that? Today, Jason Furman, head of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers, released a report on the progress the government has made in reducing poverty. Here is the key takeaway, bolding ours:
As I will discuss in my remarks today, over the past fifty years, we have made great strides in reducing poverty—cutting the poverty rate by 41 percent since 1967. However, this progress has come almost entirely as a result of government programs, and not due to changes in pre-tax market incomes for those at the bottom of the distribution; in fact, “market-income poverty” is roughly the same today as it was in 1967...
Some have argued that market-income poverty has persisted precisely because of the expanded safety net. But, as I will argue at length in my remarks today, precisely the opposite is likely to be the case. The evidence that the safety net results in a large reduction of work is relatively weak, especially as we have increasingly transformed our safety net to be conditioned on work. In contrast, there is growing evidence based on rigorous research using randomized trials, natural experiments and large datasets that track outcomes for extended periods of time, that finds that safety net programs that are focused on families with children have large and long-lasting effects on upward mobility, including higher future employment, earnings, educational outcomes and healthcare. So absent the expansion of the safety net over the last half century it is plausible that the trend in market-income poverty would have been even worse.
The social safety net—we can call it welfare, to stay in tune with the popular imagination, though it encompasses programs that touch most Americans sooner or later—works. Indeed, it is the only thing that has worked in our nation in recent history, since we have completely failed to actually raise the incomes of the poor, even while we have raised the incomes of the rich by enormous amounts. Cut taxes on the rich and slash away at the social safety net programs that transfer wealth downwards and poverty and inequality are guaranteed to get worse. That is Donald Trump’s stated plan, and that is what is going to accrue to those who cast their votes for him because they were frustrated with the inequality that already exists.
Yes, prestigious Ivy League economists who go to Davos are “elites.” By not listening to them, we’ve voted in another set of elites: billionaires, Wall Street alumni, and second-run political grifters. And our new elite will be much, much worse.