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Ear to the Ground

Paul Krugman on ‘The Undeserving Rich’

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Posted on Jan 20, 2014

mSeattle (CC BY 2.0)

“The reality of rising American inequality is stark. Since the late 1970s real wages for the bottom half of the work force have stagnated or fallen, while the incomes of the top 1 percent have nearly quadrupled (and the incomes of the top 0.1 percent have risen even more),” Paul Krugman, the Nobel Prize-winning economist, wrote Sunday in The New York Times.

“While we can and should have a serious debate about what to do about this situation, the simple fact—American capitalism as currently constituted is undermining the foundations of middle-class society—shouldn’t be up for argument,” he continued.

“But it is, of course. Partly this reflects Upton Sinclair’s famous dictum: It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it. But it also, I think, reflects distaste for the implications of the numbers, which seem almost like an open invitation to class warfare—or, if you prefer, a demonstration that class warfare is already underway, with the plutocrats on offense.

“The result has been a determined campaign of statistical obfuscation. At its cruder end this campaign comes close to outright falsification; at its more sophisticated end it involves using fancy footwork to propagate what I think of as the myth of the deserving rich.

“For an example of de facto falsification, one need look no further than a recent column by Bret Stephens of The Wall Street Journal, which first accused President Obama (wrongly) of making a factual error, then proceeded to assert that rising inequality was no big deal, because everyone has been making big gains. Why, incomes for the bottom fifth of the U.S. population have risen 186 percent since 1979!

“If this sounds wrong to you, it should: that’s a nominal number, not corrected for inflation. You can find the inflation-corrected number in the same Census Bureau table; it shows incomes for the bottom fifth actually falling. Oh, and for the record, at the time of writing this elementary error had not been corrected on The Journal’s website.”

Read the rest here.

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

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