Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A bankers' utopia

Not exactly the opinion piece I expected to find in the Wall Street Journal!

WSJ: Our Great Economic U-Turn

...The top 20% of households earned more, after taxes, than the rest of the country combined in 2005, while the topmost 1% of the population took home more than the bottom 40%. ...Real hourly wages for most workers, on the other hand, have risen only 1% since 1979, even as those workers' productivity has increased by 60%. What's more, American workers now clock more hours per year than their counterparts in virtually every other advanced economy, even Japan. And unless you haven't read a newspaper for 15 years, you already know what's happened to workers' health insurance and pension plans.

I confess that I am fascinated by the mechanics of this huge social reconfiguration – in the same sense that I am fascinated by the industrial procedures of a slaughterhouse... How the big change was brought off is the subject of Steven Greenhouse's important new book, "The Big Squeeze," which is also my source for many of the statistics in the preceding paragraphs. ...

...It is, in other words, a political disaster, with tax cuts, trade agreements, deregulatory measures, and enforcement decisions all finely crafted to benefit one part of society and leave the rest behind. Few of the voters who gave Ronald Reagan his landslide victories, it is fair to say, intended for this to be the outcome. They wanted their country to stand tall again, certainly; they wanted the scary regulators off their backs, maybe; but I can recall no conservative who trumpeted those long-ago elections – or any of the succeeding contests, for that matter – as a referendum on plutocracy.

So let us have one now. Instead of pleasant talk about "change" and feats of beer drinking at the corner tavern, let us hear our candidates address this greatest issue of them all: What kind of country are we to be? A land of equality? Or a bankers' utopia – where the law of the land has achieved mystical oneness with the higher law of classical economics, and devil take the bottom 80%.

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