Friday, February 27, 2009

True Liberalism

One of the NYT crack economics reporters, David Leonhardt, writes today:

The budget that President Obama proposed on Thursday is nothing less than an attempt to end a three-decade era of economic policy dominated by the ideas of Ronald Reagan and his supporters.

More than anything else, the proposals seek to reverse the rapid increase in economic inequality over the last 30 years. They do so first by rewriting the tax code and, over the longer term, by trying to solve some big causes of the middle-class income slowdown, like high medical costs and slowing educational gains.

As I wrote during the campaign, Obama would spell the defeat of the era of Reagan, not just John McCain. If it works, this will be one of the most important things that Obama does. If Conservatism is basically government by and for the wealthy, as I think it is, then Liberalism as exemplified by Obama is true democracy, with everyone sharing in the fruits of our modern prosperity.

The history of the United States economy over the last 70 years can be roughly divided into two periods: the decades immediately after World War II, when inequality plummeted, and the past three decades, when global economic forces and government policies caused it to soar. Mr. Obama is setting out to begin a third period that looks more like the first than the second.

That agenda starts with taxes. Over the last three decades, the pretax incomes of the wealthiest households have risen far more than they have for other households, while the tax rates for top earners have fallen more than they have for others, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

As a result, the average post-tax income of the top 1 percent of households has jumped by roughly $1 million since 1979, adjusted for inflation, to $1.4 million. Pay for most families has risen only slightly faster than inflation.

Before becoming Mr. Obama’s top economic adviser, Lawrence H. Summers liked to tell a hypothetical story to distill the trend. The increase in inequality, Mr. Summers would say, meant that each family in the bottom 80 percent of the income distribution was effectively sending a $10,000 check, every year, to the top 1 percent of earners.

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