What Is To Be Done?
April 11, 2018 8:13 AM   Subscribe

As inequality soars to record highs at home and abroad, people increasingly demand solutions. The Washington Post’s Jeff Stein asked 12 people thier ideas for addressing the inequality crisis:

I. Massive expansion of local housing stock (Will Wilkinson, Niskanen Center); II. Universal access to child care, funded by a tax on capital (Heather Boushey, Washington Center for Equitable Growth); III. Ship the 1 percent to Venezuela (David Azerrad, Heritage Foundation); IV. A big boost to union rights, universal social wealth fund (Matt Bruenig, People's Policy Project); V. Create a trust for every American baby (Darrick Hamilton, the New School); VI. Pick up the antitrust stick and wield it (Marshall Steinbaum, Roosevelt Institute); VII. Dramatically expand Social Security (Valerie Wilson, Economic Policy Institute); VIII. Give every American a federal savings account (Ernie Tedeschi, former Treasury economist); IX. Rein in Wall Street, crack down on white-collar crime (Stephanie Kelton, Stony Brook University); X. A national infrastructure program, funded by the 1 percent (Robert Frank, Cornell University); XI. Get government out of the way, repeal rules and regulations (Grover Norquist, Americans for Tax Reform); XII. A federal tax credit for first-time home buyers (Signe-Mary McKernan, Urban Institute).
posted by The Whelk (41 comments total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
 
Oh, fuck all the way off, Grover.
posted by SansPoint at 8:20 AM on April 11 [80 favorites]


III. Ship the 1 percent to Venezuela (David Azerrad, Heritage Foundation)

Shorter Azerrad: I'm a dick who won't even take the question seriously.

(He doesn't even note that deporting the super-rich and redistributing their ill-gotten gains would actually help to solve the problem.)
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:20 AM on April 11 [23 favorites]


You have to wonder if Grover Norquist even listened to the question, before trotting out his hobby horse.
posted by elizilla at 8:21 AM on April 11 [8 favorites]


Really disappointed that Norquists entry doesn't even include the word "vaping". Has he turned his back on the American people?
posted by selfnoise at 8:22 AM on April 11 [11 favorites]


Those and the tax credit for housing one are stupid, but the rest have some merit.
posted by hawthorne at 8:24 AM on April 11


XIII: Stop making new people.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 8:25 AM on April 11 [15 favorites]


Stop making new people.

Well, that's a way to erode the tax base.
posted by soren_lorensen at 8:30 AM on April 11 [7 favorites]


Those and the tax credit for housing one are stupid, but the rest have some merit.
I had the same immediate response. But, the housing tax credit seems quite a bit less stupid than the title suggests. I'm not fan of private land ownership, but if we're going to play that game, replacing the general mortgage interest tax deduction with a first-time homebuyers credit doesn't sound like a terrible idea. (To be fair, replacing the mortgage interest tax deduction with "making a giant pile of dollar bills on the floor of congress and lighting them on fire" also seems like a step in the right direction. At least that would be reasonably transparent.)
posted by eotvos at 8:35 AM on April 11 [1 favorite]


"Well, that's a way to erode the tax base"--not sure this is thought out--there are plenty of people already on earth to increase the tax base. I seriously doubt that there will be a significant reduction in wealth/income equality without a combination of income/wealth redistribution, stabilizing working/middle class workers/families and the effective management of birth rates where there is multi generational poverty and/or endemic and wide spread economic poverty and disproportionally high birth rates.
posted by rmhsinc at 8:39 AM on April 11


The fact that Norquist is included here is emblematic of the actual problem. Matthew Yglesias of Vox has an excellent piece discussing the real problem with Charles Murray - not his support of pseudoscientific bigotry, but his pushing of horrible, mean-spirited, and factually incorrect policy,as well as his influence on setting such policy. (Seriously, go read the piece - it's an excellent takedown.)

If you really want to deal with inequality, step one is to break out the baseball bat, and inform Norquist, Murray, and their ilk that they no longer have a seat at the table.
posted by NoxAeternum at 8:40 AM on April 11 [34 favorites]


elizilla: You have to wonder if Grover Norquist even listened to the question, before trotting out his hobby horse.

No, I don't wonder. He obviously didn't listen.
posted by SansPoint at 8:40 AM on April 11 [1 favorite]


Not sure how having fewer children would affect inequality in any way. There's basically no correlation between the birth rate and income inequality among developed countries as far as I'm aware. Saying so is an easy way to shift the burden of reducing equality away from governments and the 1% and onto individuals.
posted by perplexion at 8:41 AM on April 11 [9 favorites]


Are we also proposing one-world government? (I mean, it's cool if we are, I'm down.) The US (which the solutions in this FPP seem focused on) birth rate is already quite low (below replacement). Our population growth is due to immigration (which I am also all for). Developed countries that have experienced a similar fall in birth rates without accompanying immigration are desperately trying to figure out how to do things like care for their non-working population.
posted by soren_lorensen at 8:44 AM on April 11 [5 favorites]


As for developing countries and the birth rate, well, just anecdotally, my grandparents had 8 and 16 children on my mother's and father's side respectively. My parents' siblings varied but I don't think anyone had more than four kids. My generation is just beginning to have children but from what I can tell two children might become the new default. This is for a North African country.

Checking the actual official statistics, my family is pretty typical- the birth rate was around 8 in 1960, it's fallen to 2.8 now. Still above the rate of replacement, but that's an incredibly rapid decrease for two generations. Other nearby North African countries have almost identical statistics so my country isn't atypical. We don't have to actively put in effort to decrease the birth rate, it's already happening, and we can't rely on it alone to decrease income inequality.

Also, fun fact I just found out, but my country is actually among the top 5 most unequal countries in the world. So yeah, you definitely can't rely on falling birth rates alone.
posted by perplexion at 8:58 AM on April 11 [8 favorites]


Expropriate the 1%. Confiscate vacant homes from private banks. Impose a hefty estate tax over some base threshold. Impose an effective maximum wage via steeply progressive income tax reaching 100% at some threshold. Tax capital gains. Regulate the shit out of Wall Street. Close loopholes.

Raise the minimum wage Seattle-style (not leaving out restaurant workers). Set a lower maxmimum work week with mandatory overtime pay, paid vacation and family leave. Provide universal health care. Provide college-level education (or re-education) for all. Expand Social Security into eventual UBI, and don't use UBI as an excuse to dismantle the social safety net.

Deport David Azerrad to Mars, and literally staple Grover Norquist to the ground. Polish the guillotines just in case.
posted by Foosnark at 9:10 AM on April 11 [44 favorites]


Falling birth rates have huge economical implications. For an economy to work you need a certain number of consumers. Japan is leading the problem and if Japanese birth-rates continue as they are, there will no longer be such a thing as Japanese culture by the time our kids grow up. To combat this the Japanese gov't offers cash incentives for people who choose to have babies so that they will have more- but the cash incentives are too paltry to raise a child on.

Luckily they've already started making artificial wombs so probably within our lifetimes, governments will be creating babies and giving couples cash rewards to raise them. I know women who'd like to be moms, but find the whole idea of carrying a child inside them gross so they'd probably be fine with this. Get ready for the future folks!

::Fantasticness unsure if he's excited or terrified::
posted by fantasticness at 9:19 AM on April 11 [1 favorite]


Campaign finance reform. It’s not sexy, but without it, any incremental steps forward will be reversed by the next election cycle.
posted by dephlogisticated at 9:19 AM on April 11 [21 favorites]


perplexion While there may be variations the following quoted from wikipedia is accurate:"There is generally an inverse correlation between income and fertility within and between nations. The higher the degree of education and GDP per capita of a human population, subpopulation or social stratum, the fewer children are born in any industrialized country."
posted by rmhsinc at 9:25 AM on April 11


I know women who'd like to be moms, but find the whole idea of carrying a child inside them gross so they'd probably be fine with this.

*raises hand* That's 25% of why I won't have a kid (along with hell no I'm not bringing a new life into this shitty world, my god I wouldn't wish my horrible genes on anyone else, and fuck that I'm incapable of taking care of myself to say nothing of a child).

But ultimately, there are plenty of kids without homes out there who can be productive citizens without having to grow babies for cash incentives. The world needs good foster parents.

The world also needs UBI.
posted by elsietheeel at 9:25 AM on April 11 [11 favorites]


Uber and Lyft ignored the stupid taxi monopoly laws, and now 1 million people — who for decades were kept from such work by government laws — are working as independent contractors on ride-sharing platforms.

"And making less money than taxi drivers, who are also making less money than they used to due to competition from ride-sharing platforms. Wait, what was the question, again?"
posted by The Card Cheat at 9:26 AM on April 11 [18 favorites]


Rental-based deduction, major tax credit for 1-car households. The rent is too damned high!
posted by j_curiouser at 9:30 AM on April 11


I rather like the federal savings account one. Although probably slow to have significant impact, it appears scrupulously equitable and would gore a minimum of sacred cows and/or monied special interests. Could be politically feasible, although raiding mortgage deductions might be a bit of a tussle...
posted by jim in austin at 9:30 AM on April 11


Luckily they've already started making artificial wombs

Unless we get a true matriarchy going first this is going to end up in a sex robot Handmaid’s Tale nightmare

So let’s...not

Unless we’re all on board for matriarchy, which: yes.
posted by schadenfrau at 9:33 AM on April 11 [10 favorites]


But, the housing tax credit seems quite a bit less stupid than the title suggests. I'm not fan of private land ownership, but if we're going to play that game, replacing the general mortgage interest tax deduction with a first-time homebuyers credit doesn't sound like a terrible idea. (

I can't read the article because paywall, but does this solution talk at all about how people are going to be able to utilize this tax credit if they don't have money for a down payment? Housing is really expensive in coastal cities and still well above what it would have cost in terms of income vs price, before, say, the '80s everywhere else, so the problem is not affording the payments but getting the down payment together, something that a tax credit doesn't really help with. It's a catch-22 solution that doesn't actually solve any problems except in marginal cases.
posted by Automocar at 9:36 AM on April 11 [6 favorites]


"There is generally an inverse correlation between income and fertility within and between nations. The higher the degree of education and GDP per capita of a human population, subpopulation or social stratum, the fewer children are born in any industrialized country."

I suppose where we disagree is why this is true. You seem to be arguing that this correlation indicates that if a population has fewer kids, income inequality will go down. I read it as, the structural factors that affect the fertility rate (women's rights; the likelihood that the kid will go into school instead of contributing to the family's income; the demographic transition; to name a few) are also correlated with decreasing income inequality. And thus, artificially trying to decrease the birth rate on its own would have no effect and in fact would have severe economic consequences.

If I'm incorrect about this, then how exactly does having fewer kids directly lead to reduced income inequality?
posted by perplexion at 9:43 AM on April 11 [3 favorites]


I can't read the article because paywall

Incognito mode if you have Chrome...
posted by jim in austin at 9:46 AM on April 11


You know, the idea that the path to betterment involves making people have fewer kids -- rather than, you know, providing them access to opportunity -- isn't new. We've had it implemented before. It's called forced sterilization.

Honestly, I watched this conversation unfold with a mounting sense of disbelief. When it was first brought up I thought it was probably sarcasm. But apparently this is a thing that people actually believe.
posted by inconstant at 10:09 AM on April 11 [8 favorites]


Massive expansion of local housing stock

I'm from NE Ohio, where there is in fact plenty of local housing stock, and I think this grossly overestimates how much rents decrease just because the cost of the housing decreases. If the poor people who live in those homes can't afford to actually buy them themselves, then you wind up with a house that has a market rate of $40k that is still renting for $800/mo plus all utilities. (If that. I used to live in a building that had last been sold for $40k and had four units that had some minor updates and all four were $500/mo apartments.) Which I'm sure still seems cheap to a New Yorker, but when you're talking specifically about poor people, it really isn't helping much. It helps landlords a lot, but they aren't the ones who need helping. More capital being owned by the wealthy does not fix income inequality. That local housing needs to be owned by the people who live in it.
posted by Sequence at 10:15 AM on April 11 [8 favorites]


Expropriate the 1%. Confiscate vacant homes from private banks. Impose a hefty estate tax over some base threshold. Impose an effective maximum wage via steeply progressive income tax reaching 100% at some threshold. Tax capital gains. Regulate the shit out of Wall Street. Close loopholes.

Raise the minimum wage Seattle-style (not leaving out restaurant workers). Set a lower maxmimum work week with mandatory overtime pay, paid vacation and family leave. Provide universal health care. Provide college-level education (or re-education) for all. Expand Social Security into eventual UBI, and don't use UBI as an excuse to dismantle the social safety net.


Hey I'm all for fully automated luxury gay space communism too!


Deport David Azerrad to Mars, and literally staple Grover Norquist to the ground. Polish the guillotines just in case.


Flagged as fantastic.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 10:22 AM on April 11 [6 favorites]


Not sure that housing tax credit will work. Australia has a first home owners grant (initially $7000, then stamp duty exemptions were added, and an additional $7000 bonus temporarily post GFC, now I think it's just stamp duty exemptions for purchases up to a certain amount). Studies have shown that all it generally does is increase the house prices. Maybe the lack of an upfront discount/cash will stop that from happening in the proposed scenario but, as others have said, how does this help when you still need to have the cash upfront to begin with?
posted by Kris10_b at 10:45 AM on April 11 [6 favorites]


Campaign finance reform. It’s not sexy, but without it, any incremental steps forward will be reversed by the next election cycle.

Yes. Every branch of government needs to be accountable to and working for the people, not the money. Everything else flows from that.
posted by Foosnark at 10:47 AM on April 11 [5 favorites]


You have to wonder if Grover Norquist even listened to the question, before trotting out his hobby horse.

At least most of the the other solutions represent something different, if not entirely untried. But Republicans have been cutting taxes and regulation since Reagan, with Norquist leading the charge, and prosperity for all hasn't exactly resulted.
posted by Gelatin at 11:53 AM on April 11 [3 favorites]


If the poor people who live in those homes can't afford to actually buy them themselves, then you wind up with a house that has a market rate of $40k that is still renting for $800/mo plus all utilities.

There are limitations on how little banks will lend for housing at current low interest rates (seems like somewhere between $50-80k is close to the limit), and currently there are heavy restrictions on allowing the poor to purchase any homes. So you are correct that if house prices fall far enough, then some subsidized lending needs to occur.

Of course these bank limitations stem from the fact that the current Ohio median price is about $130k or 3X a $40k house. The number of $40k houses compared to the overall market is very small, and since it's well within the range of all cash buyers, bankers can ignore it.
posted by The_Vegetables at 12:24 PM on April 11


It seems to have gone a bit out of fashion, but it's still worth looking at Thomas Piketty's "Capital in the 21st Century". He looks at the factors that concentrate wealth, and the factors that spread it (e.g. inheritances split between multiple heirs), and sees that wealth is getting ever more concentrated. He looks at the returns people get on their wealth, and observes that small investors usually get 3%-4% per year over inflation, the richer get 6%, the super rich seem to get up to about 10%. To stop the concentration of wealth he proposes a weatlth tax of 0% for fortunes below 1 million Euros, 1% on fortunes between 1 and 5 million Euros, and 2% above 5 million.

This proposal got treated with hysterics by the right wing, as if Piketty is a crazed revolutionary intent on the destruction of the rich. But under this tax regime, rich people as individuals still get richer from sitting on their piles of money, they just do so at a slower rate. They just don't accumulate fast enough to turn into a pure aristocracy.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 1:11 PM on April 11 [14 favorites]


The monster at the end of the book is Grover Norquist.
posted by zompist at 2:32 PM on April 11 [10 favorites]


Perplexion--it is not one or the other. They can be additive. On an indiividual level he age at which a woman has her first child and the number of children are significant predictors of future poverty for both the mother and the children. But you are absolutely right--on a larger cultural/social level as income goes up and women's rights are expressed fertility goes down. And Inconstant--why equate birth control and family planning with forced sterilization? I thought women had a right to make choices of when and how many children to have.
posted by rmhsinc at 2:41 PM on April 11 [1 favorite]


FORGIVE STUDENT DEBT. ALL OF IT.
posted by tzikeh at 3:03 PM on April 11 [10 favorites]


Kris10_b is right about the effect of new home owners schemes. Stamp duty is "free" up to $500,000, so the bottom end of the housing market is between $480,000 and $510,000 unless you want to live the equivalent of two European countries away from a capital city.

I don't know about fixing global inequality, but local inequality is easy:
  • Eliminate stamp duty.
  • Radically increase the density of allowed residential developments near the capital cities.
  • Increase the minimum wage.
  • Move the tax burden from individuals to companies by eliminating all the company tax breaks, subsidies and loopholes. (Accept that trickle-down economics is bullshit.)
  • Move all the income tax brackets up, greatly increase the tax-free threshold, create new brackets at the top end.
  • Provide free education. (That doesn't just create an army of drones for jobs that don't exist.)
  • Provide free healthcare.
  • Increase unemployment benefit (and disability pension) to something that gives enough headroom for recipients to have some quality of life.
  • Provide a realistic old-age pension and eliminate compulsory private superannuation. (This is an Australian thing.)
  • Require employers to provide realistic professional development options for employees at risk of job loss due to AI and automation. (Australia used to have a "compulsory training levy", but the right-wing government got rid of it back in the mid-90s)
  • Invest in infrastructure, particularly public transport. (Even make public transport free.)
posted by krisjohn at 3:54 PM on April 11 [6 favorites]


First, stop doing the things that are making it worse. Income and Wealth Inequality is a problem that is getting worse because of laws. Lowering tax rates aggregates wealth in fewer hands. A separate, low, tax rate for passive income, the appalling failure of minimum wages to go up at all, reducing food assistance, eliminating meaningful assistance for higher education, killing unions.

Bring back the progressive income tax. Increase minimum wages. Rebuilding infrastructure is a great idea and helps business; they rely on it. Educate anybody who wants it. Increase the ceiling on FICA tax, a lot. Get rid of regulation that serves no purpose or just enriches a niche industry (drug tests for aid recipients) and regulate price-gouging, market manipulation, payday lending, and more.
posted by theora55 at 7:23 AM on April 12 [1 favorite]


All the proposals were just nibbling around the edges of the problem.

The unavoidable, unpalatable for many, fact is that there is going to have to be **MASSIVE** wealth redistribution if we're to fix inequality. Talking about housing and health care and education is good, don't get me wrong, but they won't actually solve the core problem.

We are going to have to take away a lot of money from the richest Americans and hand it out to the poorest. It's that simple, and that difficult if not impossible without a civil war.

We're also going to need to address the structural problems that resulted in the inequality in the first place. The unlinking of wages and productivity we saw in the late 1970's and early 1980's, for example. One way would be a nationally mandated living (not minimum) wage, inflation adjusted annually.

Ultimately imposing a maximum wage, if not formally than in practice by dramatically increasing income tax for the upper brackets, is the only real solution to the deeper structural problem. If they can't keep the money they'd get by stealing wages then they won't.
posted by sotonohito at 7:49 AM on April 12 [1 favorite]


TheophileEscargot They just don't accumulate fast enough to turn into a pure aristocracy.

Which is why conservatives acted as if it was the worst proposal ever. The essence of conservatism is a strong belief in an aristocracy (whether formally recognized as such or not). They never really got over the destruction of the European aristocracy and they've been desperately trying to replace it with an aristocracy of wealth ever since WWII.
posted by sotonohito at 7:53 AM on April 12 [3 favorites]


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