Friday, June 14, 2013

"Sympathy for the Luddites"

Paul Krugman says technological disruption is real, and argues redistribution is the only way to deal with it.

And the modern counterparts of those woolworkers might well ask further, what will happen to us if, like so many students, we go deep into debt to acquire the skills we’re told we need, only to learn that the economy no longer wants those skills?

Education, then, is no longer the answer to rising inequality, if it ever was (which I doubt).

So what is the answer? If the picture I’ve drawn is at all right, the only way we could have anything resembling a middle-class society — a society in which ordinary citizens have a reasonable assurance of maintaining a decent life as long as they work hard and play by the rules — would be by having a strong social safety net, one that guarantees not just health care but a minimum income, too. And with an ever-rising share of income going to capital rather than labor, that safety net would have to be paid for to an important extent via taxes on profits and/or investment income.

It's interesting evidence mainstream economics is starting to get worried about this issue. He's not providing a "but these fears have always been misplaced in the past" usual take.

The trouble is redistribution without some sense of who deserves what isn't going to fly. This is the left's problem: people don't believe equality is the same as justice (or "fairness".) We can't solve this without having some sense of what we value, or what the good life is. And liberal neutrality on that question, and its focus on material resources and income above all, makes that impossible.

Krugman's solution also assumes there will be supernormal profits, but technology may compete and innovate those away, too. In a perfect market profit is zero, after all, and tehnology is removing barriers to entry and market segmentation.





No comments:

Post a Comment