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Robert Reich on the triumph of the right

From Robert Reich’s eponymous blog:

“The real triumph of the right has come in shaping the national conversation around the size of government and the budget deficit – thereby diverting attention from what’s really going on:  the increasing concentration of the nation’s income and wealth at the very top, while most Americans fall further and further behind.”

This is both obvious and profound. Most ideas on the liberal to-do list can be easily dismissed if the first question is: Does it make the government smaller?

Many liberals will say that deficit and debt are important, but not the only priority.

On the other hand — this is only my impression but a strong impression, at least in my addled brain — I don’t hear Republicans even acknowledging that the maldistribution of wealth and income is a problem, or even an issue, or even a fact.

Perhaps representatives of the various factions of the right should be asked about it more. Is there any percentage of the nation’s wealth that could be concentrated in the top one or five or 10 percent of the population that would be a problem, and if so what is the Republican plan for addressing it?

Comments (25)

  1. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 10/23/2013 - 03:35 pm.

    Holy crap

    Reich is right!

    “I don’t hear Republicans even acknowledging that the maldistribution of wealth and income is a problem, or even an issue, or even a fact.”

    Because republicans believe in a free society. And in a free society, people are free to pursue or not pursue wealth. You have a choice.

    John Locke’s original phrase for the Declaration of Independence was actually “life, liberty and the pursuit of property.” Jefferson changed it to “happiness.”

    George Mason, in his Virginia Declaration of Rights wrote, “That all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.”

    Point being, it’s not the role of government in a free society to decide who gets what and why, regardless of what some social scientists may think.

    Bill Gates is currently worth about $72 billion. That fact has zero affect on me, nor should it.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 10/23/2013 - 06:53 pm.

      Because the concentration of wealth

      is poor economics.
      It diverts resources from those who are likely to spend it within the economy, and to those who are more likely to ‘invest’ it outside of our economy.
      Of course, if Dennis is a good internationalist, he’ll view investment in China and the Cayman’s as just as valuable as investment within the American economy.

      And John Locke, who died in 1704, had no direct connection with the authoring of the Declaration of Independence, although the Founders were likely familiar with his writings.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 10/23/2013 - 07:57 pm.

      Another problem

      is that (as Adam Smith was aware) pure capitalism and free markets are inherently unstable. If one competitor gains a slight advantage (which is almost certain to occur), a positive feedback loop (engineers understand such things) is set up where a small advantage of scale leads to greater market penetration and eventually a monopoly. The only way to limit these loops is by some sort of external damper, such as progressive taxation.
      You seem to be implicitly raising the old argument that any taxation is a violation of the constitution by unlawfully depriving citizens of their property. Haven’t heard much of that since the days of the Posse Cockamamie.

      And note that Locke’s labor theory of value became the basis for Marx’s Kapital. He would hold that Bill Gates had a right to only that valuta which was a direct result of his own labor (his modifications of the original free source Basic code).

      Finally, you might look of the influence of social contract theory on Locke’s political philosophy. Far from an unlimited free market.

      • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 10/23/2013 - 10:40 pm.

        I’m not opposed to taxation

        I prefer voluntary taxation, such as a consumption tax. Income tax is a tax on labor, which is not only immoral but inherently counterproductive in that you’re discouraging initiative, something government employees never have to deal with. So maybe we should just apply the income tax to public employees. A consumption tax is only paid if you choose to buy something.

        Most people here seem to prefer that government control the economy rather than letting the free market decide. Because as we’ve seen throughout history, as we’re seeing with Obama, when governments attempt to control the economy for the good of the people, they end up controlling the people for the good of the economy.

        And I don’t believe in social contracts other than the one the leaders of the government make when they take the oath to preserve, protect and defend the constitution. Other than the similar one I took when I volunteered to fight the communists, citizens take no such oath.

        • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 10/24/2013 - 09:37 am.

          So why do you

          (mis)quote Locke?

          to quote from Wikipedia:

          “Locke argued in his Two Treatises of Government that political society existed for the sake of protecting “property”, which he defined as a person’s “life, liberty, and estate”. In A Letter Concerning Toleration, he wrote that the magistrate’s power was limited to preserving a person’s “civil interest”, which he described as “life, liberty, health, and indolency of body; and the possession of outward things”. He declared in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding that “the highest perfection of intellectual nature lies in a careful and constant pursuit of true and solid happiness”. ”

          Note that his inclusion of ‘health’ is thoroughly consistent with the Affordable Care Act, since he gives it precedence over “possession of outward things”, which he ranks last.

        • Submitted by G K on 10/29/2013 - 11:26 pm.

          one man, one mouth

          This isn’t a jab at Bill Gates, who has directed millions at addressing global diseases, etc., but he is one man. He can’t eat any more calories per day than the guy driving the bus or the gal at the grocery checkout. He might be able to buy more cars or boats or start-up firms (one-time purchases), but he only needs X gallons of gas or Y kilowatt hours of electricity or Z appointments with a health-care provider — probably not all that much more than you and me in the big scope of things.

          Therefore, a consumption tax falls far short on covering the tab.

          As any tax hits him (or other rich folk) less than said bus driver or check-out clerk, why is a progressive tax so evil to you? You can argue in a theoretical realm, but we all are dealing with reality. If there aren’t the workers/middle class, the rest of the economy goes kablooey. Is that what you want? Because that’s where we’re heading now.

    • Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 10/23/2013 - 08:45 pm.

      Without Justice to Balance “Freedom”

      We have a society in which the ones who can hire the toughest thugs (or the most politicians/lobbyists/media consultants) run the world.

      In marked contrast to this,I believe in a just society, which, in economic terms means you actually have to contribute something of great value to society in order to be rewarded handsomely for it, which used to be far more the case.

      Today’s economy is nothing like such a meritocracy, however. It’s nothing more than a system set up by the wealthy in order to make it easier for them to game that same systems in order to further enrich themselves at everyone else’s expense (while claiming that the wealth they’ve accumulated as the result of the system they set up for exactly the purpose of allowing them to accumulate that wealth, in other words, the gains they’ve won through the ways they’ve successfully legalized their own thievery, are a proof of their worth to society).

      Dennis is as much a victim of our current economic system as any of the rest of us, but he, and those like him, will not let that reality enter their awareness, because they can’t bear to let themselves realize they’re not nearly so “free” nor so fairly compensated as they believe.

  2. Submitted by Joe Musich on 10/23/2013 - 03:42 pm.

    How do the …

    wealth borders explain half of all children in public schools living in poverty ? Who in the media is asking what Cruz etal intend to do about it ? Oh I forgot siphon students out of the publics and put them in charters thereby making the publics even poorer. Then recruit teachers from tfa and demand land grant colleges provide short term miniscule education courses. Yea ! Sure, Great plan.

  3. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 10/23/2013 - 03:42 pm.

    Good question(s)


    At what point – is there such a point? – would today’s Republicans regard the concentration of wealth as a problem?

    If, at some point, it’s acknowledged to be a problem, how would today’s Republicans address it?

    If there are still some genuine journalists in Minnesota — and/or the nation — I look forward to these questions being asked of ALL the candidates for national office (changing party names as necessary), and of course, I look forward equally to the answers — from ALL the candidates, of whatever political stripe — to those questions.

    They’re a lot more important to me than whether or not the two wo/men living next door to me should be allowed to marry each other.

  4. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 10/23/2013 - 03:55 pm.

    It’s a feature, not a fault.

  5. Submitted by Peter Soulen on 10/23/2013 - 06:42 pm.

    As usual…

    …it’s not as simple as it would seem. I agree that we are all free to pursue wealth or not pursue it. But I hope I would get some agreement in turn – that wealth is as often likely to pursue the wealthy in the same way that poverty pursues the poor. There is not a level playing field by any means.

    It’s nasty to contemplate but I think we have many citizens who are happy to see a few get everything. But that is offset by the citizens who fight to see that everyone gets something. Maybe there’s hope…?

    • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 10/23/2013 - 10:56 pm.

      The only people who subscribe to the

      “who gets what” theory of government are those who believe this nation is a giant collective, managed and controlled by a benevolent government.

      But, it’s not. It’s supposed to be a nation of 300 million individuals who are free to live their lives, protected by a constitutional form of government whose only role is to ensure our rights under that constitution are preserved.

  6. Submitted by jason myron on 10/24/2013 - 02:37 pm.


    paying income taxes is “immoral” but lack of empathy for anyone other than yourself isn’t…got it. By the way, I’d take many federal workers and their mythical “lack of initiative” over the numerous wastes of space in the private sector that I’ve had the misfortune of dealing with throughout my years.

  7. Submitted by Doug Gray on 10/24/2013 - 06:58 pm.

    Free to be me and me

    “…doubling the average US individual income tax rate on the top 1% income earners from the current 22.5% level to 45% would increase tax revenue by 2.7% of GDP per year – as much as letting all of the Bush tax cuts expire…

    “…higher top tax rates may discourage work effort and business creation among the most talented: the so-called supply-side effect. In this scenario, lower top tax rates would lead to more economic activity by the rich and hence more economic growth. If all the correlation of top income shares and top tax rates…were due to such supply-side effects, the revenue-maximising top tax rate would be 57%…

    “…top earners might be able to partly set their own pay by bargaining harder or influencing compensation committees.

    “Naturally, the incentives for such “rent-seeking” are much stronger when top tax rates are low. In this scenario, cuts in top tax rates can still increase top income shares, but _the increases in top 1% incomes now come at the expense of the remaining 99%._ [emphasis added] In other words, top rate cuts stimulate rent-seeking at the top _but not overall economic growth_ [emphasis in original]…

    “…data show that there is no correlation between cuts in top tax rates and average annual real GDP-per-capita growth since the 1970s…

    “What that tells us is that a substantial fraction of the response of pre-tax top incomes to top tax rates may be due to increased rent-seeking at the top…rather than increased productive effort.’’

    [emphasis in original]

  8. Submitted by Kevin Watterson on 10/25/2013 - 11:02 am.

    Perhaps we don’t make a life out of getting upset over how much money other people have. Try it sometime.

  9. Submitted by jason myron on 10/25/2013 - 03:58 pm.


    That must be why you obsess over food stamps, unemployment benefits and any other lifeline thrown out to those less fortunate. To me, your side has certainly made a life out of getting upset over how much money people have…or don’t have.

  10. Submitted by John Appelen on 10/25/2013 - 11:21 pm.


    Technically we are indifferent as to who has what?

    We are however very sensitive to the government forcefully taking private property from one citizen and giving it to another.

    Especially when it is done so inefficiently and ineffectively. (ie bureaucratic, fraud costs, safety hammock vs safety trampoline, etc)

    • Submitted by Richard Helle on 10/26/2013 - 12:24 pm.


      The government is not forcefully taking anything. You, by living here, need to fulfill a obligation for having enjoyed the benefits of living here. A store doesn’t forcefully take your money because you wish to use a product you obtain from that store. You fulfill a obligation to pay for that product. If you decide you don’t want to, you don’t pay, it’s entirely voluntary. This idea that the right wants to enjoy living in this country without paying for it is the crassest form of welfare imaginable.

      • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 10/26/2013 - 04:39 pm.

        “The government is not forcefully taking anything”

        Try not paying your taxes. You’ll end up incarcerated.

        If I refuse to buy a business’ product, at least I won’t go to jail. Only the government operates with compliance by force or incarceration.

        • Submitted by Richard Helle on 10/26/2013 - 10:20 pm.


          You use this country’s product each and every day. Roads, schools, a stable business environment, a clean environment, all are a result of taxes paid. Paying for that is our obligation.

          • Submitted by John Appelen on 10/28/2013 - 08:43 pm.

            Paying for Services vs Wealth Transfer

            We agree that paying for products and services is an obligation. It is the wealth transfer that we disagree with.

  11. Submitted by colin kline on 10/29/2013 - 03:39 pm.

    wealth transfer

    It is the transfer of wealth TO the 1%+ that I am concerned with.

  12. Submitted by Todd Adler on 10/30/2013 - 08:53 am.

    Wealth Migration

    Conservatives are OK if the wealth transfer is up, but complain if it’s down.

    • Submitted by Pat Berg since 2011 on 10/30/2013 - 04:28 pm.

      Their assumptions

      That’s because they assume that when the wealth is transferred upwards that the recipient worked for it but that when the wealth is transferred downwards that the recipient did not.

      You know – the lazy 47% . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

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