Just for the record, while Mr. Trump is sometimes described as a “populist,” almost every substantive policy he has announced would make the rich richer at workers’ expense.
What both stories tell us is that the Obama administration has done much more than most people realize to fight extreme economic inequality. That fight will continue if Hillary Clinton wins the election; it will go into sharp reverse if Mr. Trump wins.
Step back for a minute and ask, what can policy do to limit inequality? The answer is, it can operate on two fronts. It can engage in redistribution, taxing high incomes and aiding families with lower incomes. It can also engage in what is sometimes called “predistribution,” strengthening the bargaining power of lower-paid workers and limiting the opportunities for a handful of people to make giant sums. In practice, governments that succeed in limiting inequality generally do both.
We can see this in our own history. The middle-class society that baby boomers like me grew up in didn’t happen by accident; it was created by the New Deal, which engineered what economists call the “Great Compression,” a sharp reduction in income gaps. On one side, pro-labor policies led to a striking expansion of unions, which, along with the establishment of a fairly high minimum wage, helped raise wages, especially at the bottom. On the other side, taxes on the wealthy went up sharply, while major programs like Social Security aided working families.
We can also see this in cross-country comparisons. Among advanced countries, the U.S. has the highest level of inequality, Denmark the lowest. How does Denmark do it? Partly with higher taxes and bigger social programs, but it starts with lower inequality in market incomes, thanks in large part to high minimum wages and a labor movement representing two-thirds of workers.
Most obviously, Obamacare provides aid and subsidies mainly to lower-income working Americans, and it pays for that aid partly with higher taxes at the top. That makes it an important redistributionist policy — the biggest such policy since the 1960s.
And between those extra Obamacare taxes and the expiration of the high-end Bush tax cuts made possible by Mr. Obama’s re-election, the average federal tax rate on the top 1 percent has risen quite a lot. In fact, it’s roughly back to what it was in 1979, pre-Ronald Reagan, something nobody seems to know.
What about predistribution? Well, why is Mr. Trump, like everyone in the G.O.P., so eager to repeal financial reform? Because despite what you may have heard about its ineffectuality, Dodd-Frank actually has put a substantial crimp in the ability of Wall Street to make money hand over fist. It doesn’t go far enough, but it’s significant enough to have bankers howling, which is a good sign.
And while the move on overtime comes late in the game, it’s a pretty big deal, and could be the beginning of much broader action.
Again, nothing Mr. Obama has done will put more than a modest dent in American inequality. But his actions aren’t trivial, either.
The starting point of “Free Speech” is twofold: that increasing urbanisation and the spread of the internet makes the world a “global city”. This has increased the possibilities for freedom of expression, but also the consequences that stem from it. A video posted online in one country can be found offensive in another, years later, and lead to protests and violence.
The book is organised around ten sensible “principles”, among them that everyone should be able to express themselves; that they should not threaten violence; that there should be a free press and that people should be able to protect their privacy.
Mr Garton Ash does not call for total freedom of speech. He believes child pornography should be banned, for example, and that those who post “revenge porn” should be prosecuted. Overall he makes the case that people have a right, but not a duty, to offend. Better education and a more civil society should help people become more tolerant of one another, and also of their differences. The alternative is a higher degree of state intervention that would stoke resentment, particularly among young people, and end up isolating people from each other. “Only with freedom of expression”, he argues, “can I understand what it is to be you.”
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