Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Great Wealth Transfer

Via Economist's View, um artigo de Paul Krugman sobre a concentração da riqueza nos EUA:

A generation ago the distribution of income in the United States didn't look all that different from that of other advanced countries. We had more poverty, largely because of the unresolved legacy of slavery. But the gap between the economic elite and the middle class was no larger in America than it was in Europe.

Today, we're completely out of line with other advanced countries. The share of income received by the top 0.1 percent of Americans is twice the share received by the corresponding group in Britain, and three times the share in France. These days, to find societies as unequal as the United States you have to look beyond the advanced world, to Latin America. And if that comparison doesn't frighten you, it should.

The social and economic failure of Latin America is one of history's great tragedies. Our southern neighbors started out with natural and human resources at least as favorable for economic development as those in the United States. Yet over the course of the past two centuries, they fell steadily behind. Economic historians such as Kenneth Sokoloff of UCLA think they know why: Latin America got caught in an inequality trap. For historical reasons -- the kind of crops they grew, the elitist policies of colonial Spain -- Latin American societies started out with much more inequality than the societies of North America. But this inequality persisted, Sokoloff writes, because elites were able to "institutionalize an unequal distribution of political power" and to "use that greater influence to establish rules, laws and other government policies that advantaged members of the elite relative to non-members." Rather than making land available to small farmers, as the United States did with the Homestead Act, Latin American governments tended to give large blocks of public lands to people with the right connections. They also shortchanged basic education -- condemning millions to illiteracy. The result, Sokoloff notes, was "persistence over time of the high degree of inequality." This sharp inequality, in turn, doomed the economies of Latin America: Many talented people never got a chance to rise to their full potential, simply because they were born into the wrong class.

In addition, the statistical evidence shows, unequal societies tend to be corrupt societies. When there are huge disparities in wealth, the rich have both the motive and the means to corrupt the system on their behalf. In The New Industrial State, published in 1967, John Kenneth Galbraith dismissed any concern that corporate executives might exploit their position for personal gain, insisting that group decision-making would enforce "a high standard of personal honesty." But in recent years, the sheer amount of money paid to executives who are perceived as successful has overridden the restraints that Galbraith believed would control executive greed. Today, a top executive who pumps up his company's stock price by faking high profits can walk away with vast wealth even if the company later collapses, and the small chance he faces of going to jail isn't an effective deterrent. What's more, the group decision-making that Galbraith thought would prevent personal corruption doesn't work if everyone in the group can be bought off with a piece of the spoils -- which is more or less what happened at Enron. It is also what happens in Congress, when corporations share the spoils with our elected representatives in the form of generous campaign contributions and lucrative lobbying jobs.


In the end, the effects of our growing economic inequality go far beyond dollars and cents. This, ultimately, is the most pressing question we face as a society today: Will the United States go down the path that Latin America followed -- one that leads to ever-growing disparity in political power as well as in income? The United States doesn't have Third World levels of economic inequality -- yet. But it is not hard to foresee, in the current state of our political and economic scene, the outline of a transformation into a permanently unequal society -- one that locks in and perpetuates the drastic economic polarization that is already dangerously far advanced.


AA said...

Mas que disparate pegado. Como se retirando os "ricos" da estatística (uma sociedade mais "igual") os EUA ficassem melhor. É precisamente ao contrário: pelo facto de haver quem tivesse investido, tendo ficado rico por isso, que existe tanta prosperidade distribuída por toda a sociedade. No "terceiro mundo" a desigualdade não é feita satisfazendo os consumidores, mas pela apropriação de propriedade privada através do poder político. Que isto nunca venha a acontecer descaradamente no "mundo ocidental" (e, nos EUA, vai acontecendo, é verdade).

Aquele exercício matemático revela a baboseira que o artigo é. Nos EUA, passariam a ser "ricos" milhões de indivíduos na "classe média". No terceiro mundo, milhões de miseráveis. ("a taxação progressiva não redistribui riqueza, redistribui contribuintes") O equivalente exercício político seria desastroso. Soviético, mesmo.

Miguel Madeira said...

«Como se retirando os "ricos" da estatística (uma sociedade mais "igual") os EUA ficassem melhor»

Se os altos executivos empresariais ganhassem menos,haveria mais dinheiro para subir os ordenados dos outros, logo esses "outros" seriam ficariam melhor.

Poder-se-á argumentar "Se os altos executivos ganhassem menos, a economia cresceria menos", mas, mesmo admitindo que um CEO tem realmente alguma utilidade, eles ganham muito mais do que provavelmente ganhariam noutra actividade, logo uma redução do seu vencimento não iria afectar muito a economia no seu todo (já que eles não iriam abandodar a carreira de executivos para se tornarem soldadores).