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Wed Aug 1, 2012, 07:06 PM

"America's prosperity requires a level playing field" By Joseph E. Stiglitz at LA Times

America's prosperity requires a level playing field

By Joseph E. Stiglitz at LA Times

http://articles.latimes.com/2012/jul/22/opinion/la-oe-stiglitz-inequality-20120722

"SNIP...............................

Even supply-side economists, who emphasize the importance of increasing productivity, should understand the benefits of attacking inequality. America's inequality does not come solely from market forces; those are at play in all advanced countries. Rather, much of the growth of income and wealth at the top in recent decades has come from what economists call rent-seeking activities directed more at increasing the share of the pie they get rather than increasing the size of the pie itself.

Some examples: Corporate executives in the U.S. take advantage of deficiencies in our corporate governance laws to seize an increasing share of corporate revenue, enriching themselves at the expense of other stakeholders. Pharmaceutical companies successfully lobbied to prohibit the federal government the largest buyer of drugs from bargaining over drug prices, resulting in taxpayers overpaying by an estimated half a trillion dollars in about a decade. Mineral companies get resources at below competitive prices. Oil companies and other corporations get "gifts" in the hundreds of billions of dollars a year in corporate welfare, through special benefits hidden in the tax code. Some of this rent-seeking is very subtle our bankruptcy laws give derivatives (such as those risky products that led to the $150-billion AIG bailout) priority but say that student debt can't be discharged, even in bankruptcy.

Rent-seeking distorts the economy and makes it less efficient. When, for instance, speculation gains get taxed at a lower rate than true innovation, resources that could support productivity-enhancing activities get diverted to gambling in the stock market and other financial markets. So too, much of the income in the financial sector, including that derived from predatory lending and abusive credit card practices, derives not from making our economy more efficient but from rent-seeking.

If we curbed these abuses by the financial sector, more resources (especially the scarce talent of some of our brightest young people) might be devoted to making a stronger economy rather than to exploiting the financially unsophisticated. And the banks might actually go back to the boring business of lending rather than high-risk and often opaque speculation.

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