The Real Picketty Problem
June 10, 2014 § Leave a comment
In the last forty eight hours I have read some articles indicating to me that we face a formidable, perhaps insurmountable, problem. It is not a new problem but the arithmetic provided by Thomas Picketty makes our likely future seem especially galling. To illustrate what I mean, let me suggest other , analogous examples.
We have effective vaccines to prevent measles and other forms of childhood illnesses. But a significant segment of our population refuses to vaccinate their children because they have found statements on the web claiming that vaccines are dangerous. No matter how many physicians go on TV to debunk these claims, those parents still insist on “protecting” their children from vaccines.
Another example: The overwhelming majority of respected scientists have been shouting for years that fossil fuel is causing climate changes that threaten significant portions of the planet. We know how to reduce this threat by limiting the use of those fuels But implementing regulations to effect those limits has proved to be politically difficult. It seems likely that, by the time we finally take appropriate steps to protect ourselves, it will be too late to avoid many of the destructive results of climate change.
Another example: Evolution has long been an accepted scientific explanation for the history of our species. Physiology, anthropology, archeology, much of medical research, and virtually all other scientific disciplines are based, to some extent, on the theory of evolution. But Charles Blow, in an article in the NY Times two days ago, reported that a recent poll showed that thirty-two percent of Americans believe that the world was created 10,00 years ago, just as Genesis states. What’s more, since their belief is based on their religious creed, any faltering doubt they might have will, as they see things, threaten them with divine punishment, so confronting them with evidence contrary to that idea is pointless.
And, of course, as I have remarked before: George W. Bush was re-elected in 2004.
So, given these examples and this history, I am pessimistic about the likelihood of a rational response to Picketty’s evidence that we face a worldwide progressive redistribution of wealth to a smaller and smaller group of oligarchs, while the rest of the world’s population languishes in a steadily expanding slough of poverty or near poverty, with no significant prospect of escaping from it. Here is a link to an article that predicts that, during the next five years, the wealth of the world’s population of millionaires, who, in 2013 controlled $8.4 trillion in wealth, will, by 2018 control $13.0 trillion. During that five years, the projected gap between those oligarchs and the rest of us will grow dramatically.
One more bit of news: Like you, I often see any indication of rising wage rates equated with the threat of inflation. Here are some facts that establish, at least to my satisfaction, that rising profits have been the main, in fact the only, source of inflation since the end of the recession.
These facts establish, it seems to me, that our economic system unfairly rewards the rich few and does a poor job of sharing wealth with the working class. Most western countries, where these circumstances prevail, are democracies. That means that there are non-violent means of correcting this obvious injustice. The problem, however, is succinctly stated by a popular comedian, Ron White. His remarks are crude, tasteless and sexist. His message, however, worth considering: Our Picketty problem may be that you can’t fix stupid.