Should everyone get a minimum inheritance at birth? How about a government-guaranteed income or job? In the face of a growing income gap, we may need to get revolutionary.
If you’re going to talk about solutions to inequality in America and globally and don’t want to piss anyone off, one of the best things to talk about is skills and education. Workforce training and college affordability are popular topics partly because they work (sometimes) and partly because they go nowhere near the red/blue sore-points of the body politic. No wonder getting more skills and education to people—opening up opportunity—is the preferred thing for polite politicians, policy wonks, business people, and the great bipartisan middle of America to discuss.
But it’s arguable if “skills and education” is really a sufficient response to the inequality problem, which has been growing. We’ve seen spiraling incomes at the top-end (the 1%) and, more importantly, long-term stagnation in many workers’ wages. Given the divergence, we need policies that go beyond ones tried before—and that continue to not solve the problem.
To economists, the focus on skills and education unnecessarily leaves a lot of other good ideas in the shade. There are many other things we could try, and, as the economist Tony Atkinson says in his new book,Inequality: What Can Be Done?, it might be taken for granted that we would invest in people’s skills and education anyway. “The standard response to the question ‘How can we fight rising inequality?’ is to advocate increased investment in education and skills,” he writes. “I would like to highlight more radical proposals—proposals that require us to rethink fundamental aspects of our modern society and to cast off political ideas that have dominated recent decades.”
Atkinson, a senior professor at the London School of Economics, has spent a lifetime investigating inequality. He first proposed the “Atkinson Index”—a way of measuring contributions to inequality within a society—back in 1970. His new book sets out 15 concrete proposals—five of which we discuss further below—for reducing inequality. They all fall in the camp of redistributing wealth in some way, Atkinson says, but not necessarily in the ways you might think. “I start from the pragmatic concern that current levels of inequality are too high, and that this outcome in part reflects the fact that the balance of power is weighted against consumers and workers,” Atkinson writes.
One idea Atkinson explores is pay codes, where executives are bound by mandatory or voluntary ratios of pay relative to workers. For example, the Swiss have voted to impose pay controls on managers, including the right for shareholders to veto pay proposals and bans on “golden parachutes” for departing executives. In the U.K., companies have come together under a decent-pay accreditation plan run by the Living Wage Foundation (both the Chelsea Football Club and Barclays are members).
These codes help start a conversation about the distribution of income and the wider question of who gains when the economy improves. In the last 20 years, we’ve seen steadily rising productivity but wages haven’t caught up. The question is who shares in a company’s prosperity when it’s making money. In America, it hasn’t been workers, of late.
The Latest on: Reversing Income Inequality
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The Latest on: Reversing Income Inequality
- What The Data Says: Equalizing Learning Outcomes Among Social Categories Still A Challenge, But It Is Improvingon November 20, 2019 at 4:45 am
To reverse social injustices ... Multiple factors interlinked with caste such as parental income and educational attainment, tend to be strongly correlated with student achievement.
- Florida Democrats Fight to Turn State Blue in 2020on November 19, 2019 at 3:01 pm
From a target of registering hundreds of thousands of new voters to earlier and better on-the-ground canvassing, and from investing millions of dollars in recruiting local organizers and more finely ...
- Steep energy bills can lead families into poverty, nationwide study showson November 18, 2019 at 9:50 am
new University of Wisconsin Oshkosh research shows the reverse to be true as well—high energy bills can lead a household into poverty. The nationwide study—led by UWO environmental sociologist ...
- Bloomberg and his fellow oligarchs lay down the law: Not a penny more in taxeson November 13, 2019 at 9:51 pm
He let it be known that he was taking steps to enter the race pending a final decision to run, reversing his announcement last March that he would not ... And they are petrified at the prospect of ...
- The Los Angeles Teachers’ Strike Is a Master Class in Using Unions to Secure Progressive Winson November 13, 2019 at 10:23 am
The ideas reflect the views of the authors solely. These endless debates about how to reverse income inequality and restore and strengthen democracy are a constant distraction from a more urgent need: ...
- Basic Income and Development Goalson November 12, 2019 at 9:22 am
In the end, I decided a case in terms of democratic institutional development and humanist governance could offer an antidote to how conjunctural debates set basic income in response to crises, as ...
- Democrats Propose New Tax on Millionaireson November 7, 2019 at 4:05 pm
That would increase the top income tax rate for those households from 37% to 47% and lift the capital gains rate from 20% to 30%. Targeting two related problems: “This is a bill designed to address ...
- Fact-check: Is income inequality growing in the United States?on October 12, 2019 at 2:02 am
“FACT: Just the opposite,” Brady wrote. “In new Census report all four measures of income inequality SHRUNK, reversing rise over past five decades.” We had to ask: Who is right? Is the United States ...
- Is income inequality growing or shrinking in the United States?on October 6, 2019 at 5:00 pm
"FACT: Just the opposite," Brady wrote. "In new Census report all four measures of income inequality SHRUNK, reversing rise over past five decades." We had to ask: Who is right? Is the United States ...
- Lawmakers Split Over Trump Economy’s Impact on Income Inequalityon September 19, 2019 at 5:45 pm
Reversing income inequality is a central issue among Democrats running for their party’s 2020 presidential nomination. Progressive candidates like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have offered ...
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