[I]s it really true [as Piketty claims] that the distribution of wealth is the central problem we confront, as we enter the public debate? I mean, couldn’t it just be that some of us do not care about inequalities? I know somebody may reply that indeed, there are people that do not care about inequalities: the rich. But why should the drive towards a more equal distribution of wealth be the central question for all those interested in politics? Surely inequalities are often visible to “the naked eye”: but so are, for example, asymmetries in the distribution of not wealth, but power. We live in societies that are centered around stable power asymmetries: and yet we tend to make fun of those that would like to equalize the power of men over men, as most people think that anarchists rightly belong to the periphery of the learned debate.
And a commenter (Paul Power) at Arnold’s blog points us to this April 2013 BBC report on wealth ‘distribution’ in Great Britain. A slice:
“Wealth that is self-made is becoming more and more evident,” Mr Beresford told BBC News.
“When I first started 25 years ago about two-thirds of the rich list were people who had inherited their wealth.
“Today, approaching 80% are self-made and that’s really a legacy of the Thatcher years.”
(Incidentally, I’m now reading Piketty’s new book very carefully for a review of it that I’ll write for Barron’s. I’ll likely, from time to time, reflect here at the Cafe on my reading as I progress through the volume. It’s more than 600 pages long. Right now I’m only 1/10th into it. So far at least, it’s well-written (and well-translated from French into English). And already Piketty has said some things with which I quite agree, yet also much that I find to be in error – not mistakes as much as questionable presumptions about the likes of aggregates, economic categories, the unplanned consequences of market processes.)
Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that Thomas Piketty and Paul Krugman (and Joseph Stiglitz, and Robert Reich, and name-your-favorite-”Progressive”) are correct to allege that wealth or income (or both) are now ‘too concentrated’ among ‘the rich.’ And let’s also grant, for the sake of argument, the truth of the psychologically (if not logically) related claim – made by many of the same “Progressives” – that the economic well-being of ordinary, middle-class Americans hasn’t improved much, if at all, over the past 30 or 40 years. What would such income and wealth concentration, and middle-class stagnation, prove? Of what would these putative facts be relevant evidence? Surely not of problems with laissez-faire capitalism or even with increasingly freer markets.