December 20, 2017

Here are some actions we should take in order to reduce the threat inequality poses to our democracies.

Sir, the discussions about growing inequality, that tend too often to concentrate on either income or wealth inequality expressed solely as a linear function of monetary terms, are dangerously simplified. Once some basic and non-basic wants have been met, loading up some extra millions does not produce the same amount of marginal benefits per dollar.

But of course for those who do not have the income to satisfy their needs and basic wants inequality matters, a lot. And so more important than worrying about inequality, is to worry about how increase the incomes of those earning less. 

Sometimes the lower incomes for some can have to do with some few other earning unjustifiably or even incorrectly too much, but most often it has little to do with that.

But the redistribution profiteers want to hear nothing of that sort. They prefer to feed envy, with for instance their so frequent mentions of how few wealthy posses more wealth than a billion or so of the poor. That of course can only increase the threat inequality signifies to our democracies that Martin Wolf lays out well in his “Inequality is a threat to our democracies” December 20.

Going from “a stable plutocracy, which manages to keep the mass of the people divided and docile” to the “emergence of a dictator, who rides to power on the back of a faux opposition to just such elites” is what sadly happened in my Venezuela.

What can we do?

When Wolf writes “The market value of the work of relatively unskilled people in high-income countries seems very unlikely to rise” we could for instance see what role risk weighted capital requirements for banks play:

In terms of equality what’s the difference between someone owning a home and someone renting a similar one?

Not much, that is unless the value of the house owned increased a lot and, as a consequence, rents also increase, sometimes more than what the renter can compensate with increased salaries.

That’s what happens when banks are allowed to hold residential mortgages against much less capital than when for instance lending to entrepreneurs; and as a consequence earn higher risk adjusted returns on equity with mortgages than when financing entrepreneurs; which mean banks will make the financing of house purchase abnormally available; which means house prices will go up… until

That is also what happens when central banks inject liquidity that benefits mainly the owner of assets; “now your house is worth more so take out a new loan against it” is not an offer that one renting will hear. 

When Wolf refers to “a desire to enjoy some degree of social harmony and the material abundance of modern economies, [being a] reasons to believe the wealthy might be prepared to share their abundance.” We should be careful of promising more than what could be obtained, because much of that abundance is not easily converted into effective purchase power or transferable income to others; for instance when some wealthy, by means of what could classify as a voluntary tax, decides to freeze on a wall, or in a storage room $450m of his purchase power, in a Leonardo Da Vinci “Salvator Mundi” how do you efficiently reverse that? Of course what’s important here is not the buyer’s paid $450 million but to where the $450million received are going.

Sir, I believe the following actions would go a long way to “ensure the survival of liberal democracy”

2. A monthly Universal Basic Income (UBI) that is sufficient to help you get out of bed but not so large as to permit you to stay in bed. 

3. A Revenue Neutral Carbon Tax that helps fund the UBI and aligns the incentives for saving the environment and reducing inequality. 

5. Have Facebook, Google and alike pay a minimum fee into the UBI fund for any advertising that they send to us on the web. That would also help us to make sure they do not waste so much of our very scarce attention span.