terça-feira, junho 20, 2006

108) Desigualdade e crescimento: a "lei" de Kuznetz...

Da lista de História Econômica (HES@eh.net; http://eh.net/mailman/listinfo/hes):

Here is a short section from a new book that I am completing about the problems in inequality: "Fouling the Nest."

Economists' glaring lack of concern about the level of inequality owes a great deal to Simon Kuznets, a Nobel laureate and brother of my adviser in graduate school. In his presidential address to the American economic Association in late 1954, Kuznets laid out what came to be the prevailing view about the natural course of inequality. Seeing a trend toward economic equality by the end of the 1940s, based on his analysis of very data from United States, England, and Germany, Kuznets proposed that economic inequality naturally follows an inverted U-shaped curve.
According to Kuznets, when poor countries first began to develop, inequality increased until the economy becomes more sophisticated, which then sets in motion a trend toward more equality.
Kuznets, who won his Nobel Prize for his careful analysis of economic data, was modest about this suggestion, referring to his lecture "as a collection of hunches" rather than the sort of painstaking analysis for which he was justifiably famous (Kuznets 1955, p. 26). Even so, later economists took his hunches very seriously, treating his casual observation almost as a natural law of market economies.
Markets, according to this perspective, are a benign arrangement with a built-in tendency toward equality. A longer view of the developed market economies over the last century and a half might suggest a different pattern. Market economies have a tendency toward inequality, which eventually becomes so extreme it sets off an economic crisis. In the wake of such catastrophes, new institutional arrangements arise which temporarily moderate inequality. After a short delay, these institutions fray and the tendency toward inequality begins anew.
Economists embraced Kuznets' hunch so enthusiastically because all it had such comforting implications. Coming in the midst of the Cold War, Kuznets' hunche had an even more urgent message: unfettered markets could naturally accomplish what socialism could only promise.
So, political leaders should just let business promote economic growth rather than even thinking about directly redistributing resources to help the poor, a message Lucas later echoed. Markets are not just the best means of creating widespread prosperity, but also a sure route to equality.
Unfortunately, Kuznets' idea proved to be overly optimistic. By the late 1940s, just as Kuznets was about launch his theory, the forces that were promoting equality had already lost much of their momentum.
Looking back from 1980, Jeffrey Williamson and Peter Lindert, authors of a classic book on inequality of income in the United States, speculated:

By almost any yardstick, inequality has changed little since the late 1940s. If there has been any trend, it is toward slightly more inequality in pre-fisc [pre-tax] income and toward slightly less inequality in extraordinary even by twentieth-century standards. [Williamson and Lindert 1980, p. 92]

Even the more modest appraisal of Lindert and Williamson turned out to be overly optimistic. In retrospect, instead of stability, a powerful trend toward inequality had already begun to take hold by the time they published their book. What appeared to be stability in 1980 was only a temporary pause before the right wing was about to launch its renewed offensive to restore the sort of inequality that existed just before the Great Depression. As the Soviet government receded into history, pretenses of egalitarianism no longer had any political value.

By this time, anything that threatened to inconvenience corporate balance sheets had to be vigorously attacked. Are wages too high?
Then, attack labor. Reagan's firing of the air traffic controllers union set the stage for a widespread attack on labor. The new economic climate freed business from much of its obligation to pay either decent wages or taxes.
Are regulations bothersome? Then, eliminate them. Within a few decades, the corporate sector was supreme, unburdened of a good part of the regulatory structure that had been in place at the end of the 1960s.
And still the miraculous trickle down has yet to materialize!

Michael Perelman

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