Rizzo on Inequality

Mario Rizzo has an excellent letter in the Financial Times:

Sir, Lawrence Summers’ article “Harness market forces to share prosperity” (June 25), on reducing income inequality, leaves several critical questions unanswered.

First, why should we care that income inequality is increasing? Was the previous distribution of income more just, simply because it was more nearly equal? Second, neither Professor Summers nor anyone else has a comprehensive understanding of the causes of recent trends in income distribution. In general, it is a bad idea to look for solutions to a “problem” whose causes we do not understand. Third, the whole idea of “sharing prosperity” seems to imply that prosperity is some kind of aggregate to which we all have some claim, much like members of a family. What justifies looking at society as a family? If it is, Prof Summers can just send me a monthly cheque without the need for legislation.

Finally, Prof Summers uses a shameful rhetorical trick. By suggesting a “solution” that steers a middle ground between excessive regulation and doing nothing (as if we do not redistribute income now), he appears to be very reasonable. Perhaps it is even more reasonable, however, to think through the rhetoric of increased redistribution before inventing new policies.

Mario J. Rizzo,
Department of Economics,
New York University