Bernie and the Rich

I'm not at all convinced by Bernie Sanders' analysis in today's NYT op-ed.. "Workers in Britain, many of whom have seen a decline in their standard of living while the very rich in their country have become much richer, have turned their backs on the European Union and a globalized economy that is failing them and their children." Are these workers really preoccupied with the rich getting richer, or do they feel threatened by immigrants? Those are not at all equivalent.

In his next paragraph, we get more about the rich and the "unimaginable luxury" they enjoy--supposedly that's fueling support for both Leave and Trump. But wait--Trump is the embodiment of absurd wealth and unimaginable luxury. He's Mr. Luxury himself! There's no way his supporters are driven by resentment of the rich. Resenting poor Mexican immigrants is (duh) not the same as resenting the rich!

And then there's all the stuff about how globalization is increasing inequality and poverty. Is it really? The bottom billion used to be defined as those living on less than a dollar a day, but now they're the people living on $1.25 per day. On lots of economic parameters, things are getting better around the world, and as I understand it, this is partly due to globalization. Bernie says "the global economy is not working for the majority of people in our country and the world" but prosperity is going up around the world, and even if it's fairly stagnant in the US, it's already extremely high, comparatively speaking--in fact just about the highest in the world!

Some paragraphs of this op-ed truly just sound just like Trump. "Americans should not have to compete against workers in low-wage countries who earn pennies an hour." Should we really go back to a time when the poorest people in the world were even poorer? Setting aside the moral problems with that trajectory, how's that going to give us foreign markets for our goods? How's that going to make the world more peaceful and cooperative?


s. wallerstein said...

Hello Jean,

I'm so happy to see you blogging again. I had wondered what had happened to you.

From what I know, globalization has increased inequality of wealth and income, not absolute poverty.

You probably know the book, the Spirit Level, which claims to show that inequality is related to many social problems such as violence, obesity, lack of trust, etc. It makes sense that inequality increases resentment, and resentful people tend to be angry, violent towards others and towards themselves.

It seems that the solution would not be to end global trade, but to tax it more heavily and use the resources to distribute the world's wealth more fairly.

prasad said...

"From what I know, globalization has increased inequality of wealth and income"

I don't think this is true, or at least the picture is much more complicated than that. Inequality between people around the world has decreased over the past 40 years, with an increase in inequality within nations being outweighed by a larger decrease in inequality between nations. Milanovic's "elephant graph" is the all the rage nowadays; a good starting point is Jonathan Chait's post about the same Sanders article:


Jean Kazez said...

Hi Amos, Nothing happened to me...I just found after several years that I felt like blogging less often. I'd like to do a little more though. It's good to write frequently--keeps those muscles in shape!

prasad, Thanks much for the link. I have the same impression--that globalization is in some ways reducing inequality, not increasing it. I'll look at Chait, who I always like.

s. wallerstein said...


It's nice to see that you're still there trying to inject a bit of sanity and reason into the political or cultural debate.

s. wallerstein said...


As you point out, inequality within nations is generally increasing, while inequality between nations is not. That is, there is a global class of rich or upper middle class people and a vast global proletariat or sub-proletariat.

This seems ethically inacceptable to me, even if the global proletariat is better off in absolute terms than it was 30 years ago, before globalization.

The solution, as I mentioned above, seems to be some kind of tax on international trade or financial transactions (there's the so-called Tobin Tax as a proposal) and that the tax revenue be used to better the lives of the global proletariat in terms of healthcare, education, housing, access to culture and to internet, etc.

As for Sanders, well, he's running for president, not for the job of philosophy professor and he's not above demagogic rhetoric, as the article you link to shows. I will not take issue with the article at all.