Charles Lane writes about President Obama’s “pivot” to economic inequality. Like other commentators, Lane misses the fact that there is no pivot. Addressing inequality has been the organizing theme of the Obama administration — from the stimulus to Obamacare to “regionalism.”
Until now, Obama has tried to conceal his redistributionist agenda. Indeed, when a congressman told Michelle Obama that the stimulus plan was the best anti-poverty program in a generation, the First Lady responded “Shhh”.
The “pivot,” then, is a rhetorical one designed, as Lane says, to maintain high turnout among the Democratic base in 2014. Lane is skeptical. He notes that only 17 percent of the Americans want the government’s top priority to be fighting inequality.
On the other hand, 47 percent consider economic inequality a “big problem.” There’s that number again. Mitt Romney, call your office.
Is income distribution a big problem? To answer the question with sufficient rationality to make income distribution a national priority, one must first decide what an ideal distribution would be.
Only three possibilities come to my mind. First, one might decide that income should be distributed equally. But no one in this country seems to be arguing for that.
Second, one might say that ideal income distribution is that which would exist if everyone had exactly the same opportunities in life. But no one knows how this would translate into actual income distribution.
Thus, for those who embrace this worthy ideal, the goal should be to break down barriers to opportunity. The major barriers are social pathologies and poor education. Unfortunately, Democratic policies tend to reinforce these barriers.
Third, one might say that ideal income distribution is that which exists in a society that maximizes economic output. Again, no one knows how this translates into actual income distribution. It’s likely, though, that it would translate into more inequality than exists now, since policies that take money from the productive and give it to the unproductive tend to reduce incentives to produce.
In any case, this third notion of ideal income distribution clearly is not what Obama has in mind.
What does he have in mind? Probably recreating the income distribution pattern that exists in certain European countries. Given the parlous economic situation that prevails in these countries, there is no justification, either theoretical or pragmatic, for aspiring to that sort of pattern.
If anyone tells the Obama’s that this is their ideal, the response is likely to be “Shhh.”