Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Megan whoopee

Photo by David Shankbone via Wikimedia Commons.
Hahahaha Megan McArdle:
I apologize in advance, because I am going to talk about a book that I have not yet read. To be clear, I intend to read Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the Twenty-First Century.” It is sitting on my (virtual) bedside with a big stack of other (digital) books that I intend to read. But it’s far down in the queue, and I’m afraid that I can’t wait to weigh in — not on the book itself, but on its topic. 
But the topic might not be what you think it is, you know. You might want to at least read a couple of reviews all the way through, huh?
What I want to quarrel with is not the book’s methods or conclusion, but with the general idea that income inequality is the most important thing going on in the world.
Or maybe just read the title, which is not Income in the Twenty-First Century.

The book just isn't concerned with income inequality but with capital formation, and the development of a propertied aristocracy that is tending to appropriate all the rent—not the salaries of the obscenely rich but the stock options, if you will, leaving the vast majority in a state of permanent financial insecurity no matter how big our paychecks are.

So the argument McArdle imagines making with Piketty—it's a kind of standard Brooksian moral-hazard warning that spreading the cash from the haves to the have-nots, perhaps by writing checks to the latter, will not save them from the sorrows of single parenthood and not having a morally rewarding job like opinionating—has no relevance, in addition to being wrong. The point of a very progressive taxation is not merely to redistribute the cash, vital as that is, but to fund the much more expensive task of rebuilding the industrial base and infrastructure and education system so that there's a common social capital in which all can participate. As any liberal fule kno, to say nothing of the lucky few who have managed to read that book.

Oh, and
a recently-laid-off accountant in Duluth probably still wouldn’t have the same shot at Harvard for the kids or a nice apartment on Riverside Avenue as a Columbia professor does. 
Really? I think the Harvard thing is not so obvious, but the accountant will almost certainly get the apartment, since there's a Riverside Avenue in Minneapolis but none anywhere near the Columbia campus.
Late 19th-century postcard image of Morningside Heights and Riverside Drive, via Untapped Cities.
Also, a magnificent appreciation of McArdle from Fredrik De Boer:
My first objection is to McArdle’s central argument, “Taxes are gay.” I find this offensive and wrongheaded. First, taxes are bi-curious at best. Second, using the word “gay” as an insult, even against an inanimate concept such as taxes, is not the way we do things here in the 21st century...

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