In an article for Huffington Post, economist Dean Baker explains the basic point of Thomas Piketty’s best selling book, “Capital for the 21st Century,” which has the economic world buzzing.
Piketty’s basic point on this issue is almost too simple for economists to understand: If the rate of return on wealth (r) is greater than the rate of growth (g), then wealth is likely to become ever more concentrated.
To stem the growth of the wealth gap, Piketty suggests a “Global Wealth Tax” which in today’s global political climate isn’t likely to happen. So what can be done? Baker offers some solutions:
A new I.M.F. analysis found the value of the implicit government insurance provided to too big to fail banks was $50 billion a year in the United States and $300 billion a year in the euro zone. The euro zone figure is more than 20 percent of after-tax corporate profits in the area. Much of this subsidy ends up as corporate profits or income to top banking executives.
In addition to this subsidy we also have the fact that finance is hugely under-taxed, a view shared by the I.M.F. It recommends a modest value-added tax of 0.2 percent of GDP (at $35 billion a year). We could also do a more robust financial transactions tax like Japan had in place in its boom years which raised more than 1.0 percent of GDP ($170 billion a year).
In this vein, serious progressives should be trying to stop plans to privatize Fannie and Freddie and replace them with a government subsidized private system. Undoubtedly we will see many Washington types praising Piketty as they watch Congress pass this giant new handout to the one percent.
The pharmaceutical industry also benefits from enormous rents through government granted patent monopolies. We spend more than $380 billion (2.2 percent of GDP) a year on drugs. We would spend 10 to 20 percent of this amount in a free market. We would not only have cheaper drugs, but likely better medicine if we funded research upfront instead of through patent monopolies since it would eliminate incentives to lie about research findings and conceal them from other researchers.
There are also substantial rents resulting from monopoly power in major sectors like telecommunications and air travel. We also give away public resources in areas like broadcast frequencies and airport landing slots. And we don’t charge the fossil fuel industry for destroying the environment. A carbon tax that roughly compensated for the damages could raise between $80 to $170 billion a year (0.5 to 1.0 percent of GDP). [..]
In addition to the rent reducing measures listed above, there are redistributionist measures that we should support, such as higher minimum wages, mandated sick days and family leave, and more balanced labor laws that again allow workers the right to organize. Such measures should help to raise wages at the expense of a lower rate of return to wealth.
In an interview with Bill Moyers, Nobel Prize-winning economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, talks about Piketty’s “magnificent” new book and what the 1% don’t want us to know.