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Replying to Branko Milanović

Here’s my reply to Branko Milanović’s initial response to my opening essay at Pairagraph. I argue that there’s been no economic stagnation of America’s middle class; Prof Milanović disagrees (including in his reaction to my reply).

Here’s a slice from my reply to his initial response:

The question of whether and by how much economic inequality has risen recently differs from the question of whether or not ordinary Americans have economically stagnated. The latter question is about the trend in absolute living standards. Because the total amount of material wealth can and does grow, simple arithmetic reveals that everyone can become more prosperous even if economic inequality rises.

For the same reason, Americans can all grow wealthier even as foreigners do so.

As far as human experiences go, I disagree that my noting today’s widespread availability of goods and services that were nonexistent decades ago is absurd. The fact that wonders such as smartphones and Lasik surgery didn’t exist in the past does nothing to alter the fact that, if people today treasure having access these wonders, such access causes people’s material prosperity to be higher than it would be otherwise.