Presentation on theme: "FALLING BEHIND How Rising Inequality Harms the Middle Class Robert H. Frank Cornell University."— Presentation transcript:
FALLING BEHIND How Rising Inequality Harms the Middle Class Robert H. Frank Cornell University
Adam Smith’s invisible hand: Self-interested demands will result in a socially efficient allocation.
Charles Darwin: Traits are selected because of their impact on the reproductive fitness of individuals, not groups. Traits that benefit individuals often work to the disadvantage of groups.
Why do male elephant seals weigh five times as much as females?
The exception that “proves” the rule: Very little sexual dimorphism in monogamous species.
Gaining access to mates = a positional good Minimizing the risk of death from predators = a nonpositional good
The Conflict Between Individual and Group Robert H. Frank. “The Demand for Unobservable and Other Nonpositional Goods.” American Economic Review, 75, March, 1985, pp
Positional Externalities Are Pervasive In a poor country, a man proves to his wife that he loves her by giving her a rose. In a rich country he must give a dozen roses. Richard Layard
Cycles of Fashion
Tattooing and piercing
Forms of Discourse: Individual vs. Collective Incentives
Excessive formalism in economics
The holder [of a CAB certificate] may continue to serve regularly any point named herein through the airport last regularly used by the holder to serve such point prior to the effective date of the certificate. Upon compliance with such procedures relating thereto as may be prescribed by the Board, the holder may, in addition to the services hereinabove expressly prescribed, regularly serve a point named herein through any airport convenient thereto. Bureaucratic Language
“I propose to embrace tactical strategies in moving in disruption of the dichotomy, as crucial to an epistemology of resistance/liberation. To do so is to give uptake to the disaggregation of collectivity concomitant with social fragmentation and to theorize the navigation of its perils without giving uptake to its logic…” Maria Lugones, “Tactical Strategies of the Streetwalker” Discourse in the Humanities
If you were society’s median earner, which option would you prefer? 1)You save enough to support a comfortable standard of living in retirement, but your children attend a school whose students score in the 20th percentile on standardized tests in reading and math; or 2) You save too little to support a comfortable standard of living in retirement, but your children attend a school whose students score in the 50th percentile on those tests?
Launching your children successfully in life = positional good Maintaining a comfortable standard of living in retirement = nonpositional good
Expenditure Cascades Top earners spend more because they have more money. And so on all the way down the income ladder. That, in turn, shifts the frame of reference for those next below. This shifts frame of reference for those just below them, who also spend more.
The cost of sending a child to a school of average quality is linked to the price of the average house in the community. Median size of a newly constructed house: 1980: less than 1600 square feet 2004: more than 2100 square feet
Viking Professional, $5, Sunbeam, $90 Gas Grills Then and Now
Talos Outdoor Cooking Suite, $35,000.
Evidence for Expenditure Cascade Hypothesis In 100 most populous U.S. counties, those that experienced highest growth in income inequality also experienced highest Growth in long commute times Growth in divorce rates Growth in bankruptcy rates Frank and Levine, 2006
In OECD, over time and across countries, higher 90/50 ratios are linked with longer hours of work Bowles and Park, 2003 In 200 school districts, median home prices are higher in districts with higher income inequality Ostvik-White, 2004
Proposed positional arms control agreement: Raise tax rates on income and put additional revenues into retirement equity accounts for citizens.
If voters felt incapable of achieving their savings goals without the proposed law, on what grounds could a libertarian reasonably object?
Taxation as theft? No taxes, no government. No army. Get invaded by some other country’s army. Pay taxes to that country’s government.
The Libertarian Criterion: Taxation and regulation are acceptable only if they are required to prevent citizens from harming others. Driving 90 mph in school zones: not permitted A necessary, not sufficient, condition. Harming business rivals by cutting prices: permitted
The Libertarian Crybaby: “You can’t tax or regulate me because that limits my freedom to do as I please.” An effective advocate for liberty?
Ronald Coase, “The Problem of Social Cost”
Externalities are reciprocal: Allowing pollution harms those downwind. Forbidding pollution raises costs and prices. Society’s interest lies in making total harm as small as possible. When transaction costs are low, affected parties will negotiate efficient solutions privately.
Transaction costs often make private solutions impractical. In such cases, policy should place the burden of adjustment on those who can accomplish it at the lowest cost.
Example: Smith objects to Jones wearing a purple shirt, the sight of which, Smith claims, causes him great distress. Should the wearing of purple shirts be prohibited? Impractical to pay Jones not to wear purple shirts. “Get used to it, Smith! People have a right to wear whatever shirts they please!”
Smith complains that Jones’s larger house reduces his welfare. “Get used to it, Smith! Jones has a right to build whatever size house he chooses.” Analysis-free response:
Defending any right entails benefits and costs. Free speech: The First Amendment protects most forms of expression, even those that cause intensely painful effects on others. But when the cost of speaking freely is sufficiently high, we prohibit speech. Yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater.
Wearing purple shirts is permitted because people who are offended by them can adapt more easily than those who are told they can’t dress as they please.
Which party can avoid harm at least cost in the case of positional externalities? Proponent of the agreement: Save too little and suffer diminished living standard in retirement (or send your child to a bad school in a dangerous neighborhood). Opponent of the agreement: Live in a smaller house than you would have chosen.
Why have economists been so slow to take positional concerns seriously? James Duesenberry’s Relative Income Hypothesis: The poor save at lower rates than the rich because they are more frequently exposed to consumption standards higher than they can comfortably afford.
Milton Friedman’s Permanent Income Hypothesis: “Rich and poor save at the same rate.”
John Maynard Keynes: “Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren,” 1930: How will they fill their days once productivity advances make it possible to meet their economic needs by working only a few hours a week?
“Now it is true that the needs of human beings may seem to be insatiable. But they fall into two classes—those needs which are absolute in the sense that we feel them whatever the situation of our fellow human beings may be, and those which are relative in the sense that we feel them only if their satisfaction lifts us above, makes us feel superior to, our fellows.”
“But this is not so true of the absolute needs—a point may soon be reached, much sooner perhaps than we are all aware of, when these needs are satisfied in the sense that we prefer to devote our further energies to non-economic purposes.” “Needs of the second class, those which satisfy the desire for superiority, may indeed be insatiable; for the higher the general level, the higher still are they.”
Context and the demand for quality
A memorable meal An effective interview suit A suitable gift
Regulations as Data
Why do hockey players vote in secret ballots for helmet rules, even though they choose not to wear helmets when there is no rule?
Rules Governing Duels
Mandatory Kindergarten Start Dates
2) You work in a risky job at $1200 a week, and your children attend a school whose students score in the 50th percentile on those tests? Safety Regulation In the abstract, you value safety at $300/wk. Which option would you prefer? 1) You work in a safe job at $1000 a week, and your children attend a school whose students score in the 20th percentile on standardized tests in reading and math; or
Which option would you prefer? 1)You save enough to support a comfortable standard of living in retirement, but your children attend a school whose students score in the 20th percentile on standardized tests in reading and math; or 2) You save too little to support a comfortable standard of living in retirement, but your children attend a school whose students score in the 50th percentile on those tests? Mandatory Savings Programs
Which option would you prefer? 1)You work 40 hours a week, and your children attend a school whose students score in the 20th percentile on standardized tests in reading and math; or 2) You work 60 hours a week, and your children attend a school whose students score in the 50th percentile on those tests? Limitations on Work Hours
Why do predominantly male legislatures enact statutes prohibiting polygamy?
Positional externalities are no different from other externalities.
The Progressive Consumption Tax Consumption + Savings = Income Consumption = Income – Savings Taxable consumption = Income – Savings – standard deduction