Thursday, August 4, 2011

It's a Puzzle

 A few days ago, John Quiggin argued for increasing taxes on the rich.  Matthew Yglesias responded by insisting that
a lot of the political dialogue I see online seems to consist of a slightly strange form of class resentment in which intellectuals, nonprofit workers, or public servants express bitterness about the high incomes of businesspeople whose lives they don’t actually envy.
Today, among other things, Henry Farrell points out that this is nonsense. Yglesias, or someone claiming to be him, shows up in the comments and argues:
Apologies if you feel I impugned the motives of anyone in regard to inequality. Let me simply restate my hypothesis that few tenured professors at reputable Anglophone universities actually envy the lives of CEOs earning above the “top one percent” threshold. Perhaps that hypothesis is false. But if my hypothesis is true, I think it complicates the issue of inequality somewhat beyond the terms in which Quiggin presented it.
In the space of a few short sentences he changes an observation, class resentment drives a lot of online political etc, to a theory which, if true, complicates discussions  of inequality.  Leaving aside that there needs to be some kind of an argument about how non-envy driven resentment based tax policies complicates inequality, how is possible that an initial factual claim is really a theory?

Baffling. What is clear, however, is that it is becoming harder and harder for the spokesmodels for "left neoliberalism" to keep their stories straight.

From the comments over to CT from Yglesias, or someone pretending to be him:
I also think that in a relatively affluent society it makes sense to take a somewhat broader view of quality of life—and thus of inequality in quality of life—than would be suggested by a narrow focus on cash income. This is why the fact that many people who earn substantially less than CEOs do not in fact envy the lives of CEOs is relevant.
This is just word salad.  The issue under consideration is quality of life, i.e., the poor today are better off, in the sense of having cell phones and ac, than the rich of the 1920s. This kind of an argument, which has been around, if not for ever, at least since William Graham Sumner, ignores the fact, and fact it is, that inequalities in wealth translates into political inequality.  This fact, in turn, means that the benefits the next generation of have-nots and almost-haves will be worse of than this generations. Furthermore, whatever is meant by "quality of life" it's something, in any kind of a capitalist society, requires  "cash income." So fine, provide everyone with a salary and subsidized house equal to that of his imaginary non-envious, CEO-resenting and consequently tax-increasing demanding professors without taking some of the "cash income" from the unenvied CEOs.

What, exactly, does he mean by "envy the lives"? Is he referring to the light work load? the long vacations? the endless homes? or the mind-numbing boredom of being able to whatever you'd like at any given day or week? Does he mean that some people live lives they find perfectly satisfying? Of course they do. What this has to do with increasing the taxes on the wealthy as a means of paying for civilization and, whatismore, doing something to decrease the political power that comes with excessive wealth escapes me entirely.

No comments:

Post a Comment