Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Can We Get This Graph In "Did You Know 3.0?"

Paul Krugman has a (NY Times) blog. Today's intro kind of reminds me of something Warlick would write, except based on hard data and with a keener view of politics:

“I was born in 1953. Like the rest of my generation, I took the America I grew up in for granted – in fact, like many in my generation I railed against the very real injustices of our society, marched against the bombing of Cambodia, went door to door for liberal candidates. It’s only in retrospect that the political and economic environment of my youth stands revealed as a paradise lost, an exceptional episode in our nation’s history.”

That’s the opening paragraph of my new book, The Conscience of a Liberal. It’s a book about what has happened to the America I grew up in and why, a story that I argue revolves around the politics and economics of inequality...

In fact, let me start this blog off with a chart that’s central to how I think about the big picture, the underlying story of what’s really going on in this country. The chart shows the share of the richest 10 percent of the American population in total income – an indicator that closely tracks many other measures of economic inequality – over the past 90 years, as estimated by the economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez. I’ve added labels indicating four key periods. These are:


Most people assume that this rise in inequality was the result of impersonal forces, like technological change and globalization. But the great reduction of inequality that created middle-class America between 1935 and 1945 was driven by political change; I believe that politics has also played an important role in rising inequality since the 1970s. It’s important to know that no other advanced economy has seen a comparable surge in inequality – even the rising inequality of Thatcherite Britain was a faint echo of trends here.


Stephen Downes said...

It's worth noting that the other name for the Great Compression is the 'New Deal' - wherein it was recognized that the only way to keep Americans onside was to give them a larger share of the national wealth.

The new Deal, of course, is absolutely loathed by the right, which has been waging a 20 year campaign to roll back the gains and restore inequality in American society.

After the Reagan and Bush presidencies, they have largely succeeded.

Bill Kerr said...

Nice graph. I'm tempted to go dig up some quotes from Marx which show that he predicted this sort of thing - some people think Marx is now out of date (industrial model) now that we have free software development over the internet (just a splinter of real economic trends)

Another point is that the freeing up of ideas does not correlate directly with economic trends and that politics is influenced by factors other than economic and social class

For example, a great deal of intellectual freedom can be traced back to the competition b/w USA and USSR following Sputnik (1957). Most of the creative work in computing can be traced back to ARPA and PARC which seem to have grown directly out of that. That approach was shut down by the Mansfield amendments circa 1972 (?) and then with commercialisation of computers the dumbing down began in earnest and has continued to this day.