Opinion

Chrystia Freeland

Income inequality: government, Warren Buffett and growth

Chrystia Freeland
Nov 30, 2012 18:57 UTC

When Branko Milanovic, a World Bank economist, published “The Haves and the Have-Nots,” a study of global income inequality last year, one of his most striking observations was the extent to which the subject was taboo in the United States.

As Milanovic explained, “I was once told by the head of a prestigious think tank in Washington, D.C., that the think tank’s board was very unlikely to fund any work that had ‘income’ or ‘wealth inequality’ in its title. Yes, they would finance anything to do with poverty alleviation, but inequality was an altogether different matter.”

“Why?” Milanovic asked. “Because ‘my’ concern with the poverty of some people actually projects me in a very nice, warm glow: I am ready to use my money to help them. Charity is a good thing; a lot of egos are boosted by it, and many ethical points earned even when only tiny amounts are given to the poor. But inequality is different: Every mention of it raises, in fact, the issue of the appropriateness or legitimacy of my income.”

I recalled Milanovic’s remarks this week when I found myself on a panel at the Brookings Institution, one of those Washington research groups, discussing income inequality, including the research collected in a new book published by Brookings titled “Inequality in America.” In reply, Kemal Dervis, the vice president of Brookings, who co-wrote the book and led the panel, joked that if he turns up on the job market next month, we will know he overstepped the mark.

It was a characteristically polished line – Dervis is a former Turkish cabinet minister – but the truth is that the Brookings event was a sign of the recent sea change in the U.S. public discourse about income inequality.

Chinese authoritarianism does not guarantee prosperity

Chrystia Freeland
Oct 21, 2010 20:01 UTC

On a recent trip to Hong Kong Chrystia recorded a podcast for the American Chamber of Commerce in China, about an op-ed she published in the Washington Post this summer that critiqued China’s economic system of state capitalism.  Chrystia, invoking a recent speech from Mike McFaul of the National Security Council, tells the Chamber that while the Chinese system succeeded in raising the country out of the lowest rungs of poverty, there is no historical evidence that suggests it can turn China into a rich nation:

My argument, and as it turns out quite independently, Mike’s argument, was we have to be really careful about thinking that authoritarian regimes are better at modernization, and one reason why we have to be careful is there is some historical evidence that says that authoritarian regimes can be quite good at the early stages of modernization.  They can be pretty good at that brute force moment when you’re dragging and economy out of being an agrarian society into industrialization.  What we haven’t seen yet—and as we look across the world, across histories—we haven’t yet seen that an authoritarian state is able to move an economy to the next level, and in fact what we’ve seen is that even in those countries where an authoritarian state successfully led an industrialization effort, as the country got richer and the economic transformation that needed to be achieved was more complex, what you actually have had happening is democratization.  There are some Asian countries that are a really good example of that.  I think South Korea is perhaps the best one.  […]  What we don’t have evidence of is that the state capitalist model… works in a really rich country.  All the countries that are really rich are democracies.

Chrystia also elaborates on a topic she touched on in her original op-ed, namely economic historian Joel Mokyr’s thesis that the same centralized, authoritarian decision-making process which foreigners marvel at today actually caused China to miss out on the Industrial Revolution centuries ago:

‘We can’t inflate our way to prosperity’

Chrystia Freeland
Oct 12, 2010 18:43 UTC

“There is no other policy tool available [besides quantitative easing],”‘ Laura Tyson, a former chairwoman of the Council of Economic Advisors, said at this morning’s Reuters/YouTube live debate on how to fix the economy. Tyson argues that additional Fed purchases of long-term bonds is the most viable way to energize the U.S. economy since a new fiscal stimulus bill is unlikely to pass Congress:

She appears alongside Glenn Hubbard, another former CEA chairman, who maintains the Fed will spend another $1 trillion to lower rates by 20 basis points. “We can’t inflate our way to prosperity,” he said.

Tyson disagrees and thinks the risk to inflation is low. She admits we have to convince the rest of the world that the U.S. has no intention to inflate away its debt.

Stiglitz says Fed policy is competitive devaluation

Chrystia Freeland
Oct 7, 2010 16:48 UTC

U.S. monetary policy is flooding the world with cheap liquidity, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz said at the Canadian Consulate’s “Invest in Canada” luncheon yesterday. Our current policy, he explained, acts as a competitive devaluation against emerging-market currencies. Stiglitz added that he is worried about the prospect of a currency war but conceded that there’s not anything we can do about it.

Stiglitz went on to say that what the Fed is doing is not so different from China’s interventions in the foreign-exchange markets and accused the U.S. central bank of undermining global financial market integration and only acting out of a sense of guilt:

The Fed, having created the problem in the first place, feels guilty and says, ‘We should do something to get us out of the mess.’ [...]   [Emerging markets] see this as competitive devaluation of the United States.  We say, ‘No, no.  We’re not engaged in competitive devaluation.  That’s something China does.  We don’t do those kinds of things.  We don’t manipulate our currency.  All we do is ordinary monetary policy.’  But the consequence of ordinary monetary policy is competitive devaluation.

Obama should call a truce with Wall Street

Chrystia Freeland
Sep 13, 2010 13:36 UTC

The pre-election economic treats that President Barack Obama handed out this week included several intended specifically for business: research and development tax credits, for instance, and the small-business tax breaks he is pushing to introduce in the face of Republican congressional opposition.

But these familiar sweeteners won’t be nearly enough to reverse one of the most significant estrangements of the first two years of the Obama administration — the rift between the White House and business.

Two years ago, candidate Obama was the darling of the CEO class: Hedge fund titans, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and even registered Republican chief executives from the Midwest flocked to his banner. Today, America’s business leaders — even those who raised millions for him in 2008 — have turned on their president: “Socialist” is among the nicer epithets some use when describing Obama.

China’s economic model isn’t the answer for the U.S.

Chrystia Freeland
Aug 30, 2010 17:03 UTC

This piece first appeared in The Washington Post.

Forget the “Ground Zero mosque,” Michelle Obama’s Spanish holiday and even the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. When future historians look back to the summer of 2010, the event they are most likely to focus on is China’s emergence as the world’s second-largest economy.

Mostly, this is a very good thing. The rise of China, and the related, albeit slightly slower, emergence of India, is the story of hundreds of millions of very poor people joining the global economy and getting a little richer. Gross domestic product per capita in those two countries was basically stagnant from 1820 to 1950. Then, it increased 68 percent from 1950 to 1973, and a whopping 245 percent from 1973 to 2002.

But we need to be careful not to draw the wrong lessons from China’s resurrection. The most dangerous one is that authoritarianism works.

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