Monday, April 7, 2014

The Wall-Street/Silicon-Valley/Beltway complex

Eisenhower once warned us of the dangers of the Military-Industrial Complex. A bit more sardonically, globalization champion, and Columbia Professor, Jagdish Bhagwati coined the Wall Street-Treasury Complex, often referred to with the addition of the IMF (International Monetary Fund) at the end. When it comes to inequality in the US maybe we should talk about a Wall-Street/Silicon-Valley/Beltway complex or at least that is what the data presented by Galbraith and Hale here suggests.

Looking at inequality between economic sectors the paper suggests that between 1990 and 2012, three sectors are crucial, information technology, finance and the public sector. They argue that there are few main trends in the data:
One is the rise of professional, scientific and technical services in the information-technology boom through 2000. Another is the waning of the public sector, both federal and local, from 1990 to 2000 and then its recovery as a significant contributor to inequality in the early 2000s. It is notable that the Democratic years under Presidents Clinton and Obama were not banner ones for government; this sector fared better under the Republicans. A third trend is the rising importance of finance and insurance during the boom years from 1990 until 2001 but even more so during the run up to the financial crisis in 2007. Thereafter, the relative weight of the financial sector shrinks – and overall inequality also declined a bit. Taken as a whole, the period from 1990 to 2012 was one of rising earnings inequality, with a peak in 2000 and again in 2007. Inequality then subsides, but quickly recovers and by 2012 it was near or at its previous peak.
By the way, the importance of the public sector during the GOP governments goes hand in hand with the fact that Republicans are, for a long time, the party of big government (mostly for corporate welfare and tax cuts for the rich).

More interesting from the point of view of policy, Galbraith and Hale debunk the notion that education is the solution for inequality. They say:
When public discourse admits inequality to be a problem, education is often given as the cure... This is a view with powerful support among economists. But the simple inter-sector dynamics show clearly that, as a solution to inequality, education is a bust.

As we’ve shown, the last two decades have seen significantly slower job growth in the high- earnings-growth sectors than in the economy at large. So even if large numbers of young people do “acquire the skills needed to advance” there is no evidence that the economy will provide them with jobs to suit. Many will simply end up not using their skills.
Inequality is not just the result of lack of skills, since several skilled workers would end up with no jobs, or low paying jobs, and effective demand and government policy are necessary to reduce it.

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