Should Government Address Inequality Directly?


Wall Street Journal columnist William Galston suggests in “Where Right and Left Agree on Inequality”, that both sides of the political spectrum agree that economic inequality is increasing in America and that government needs to address this problem.  “Poverty is part of the explanation, as liberals insist.  But so are parenting and family structure, as conservatives believe.”
CaptureIt so happens that we have a broadly supported federal program which simultaneously addresses both poverty and family structure.  It is the Earned Income Tax Credit program.  It provides $3,305 a year to low-income working families with one child and up to $6,143 for families with three or more children.  The U.S. spends $61 billion a year on this program and it has proven to be very successful in encouraging low-income people to find and keep jobs.  In fact, the economist, Gregory Mankiw, recommends the EITC over a higher minimum wage as a better way to increase the earnings of the working poor.
The New York Times’ Eduardo Porter reports in “Seeking Ways to Help the Poor and Childless”, that New York City is conducting an experiment to see if a locally run program similar to the EITC  will have the same positive effect in increasing employment of childless adults.  It is understood that many of the jobs being created in today’s economy are low paying service jobs.  As Mr. Porter says, “for the American market economy to remain viable, being employed must, one way or another, provide for workers’ needs.”
Conclusion:  as important as it is for Congress and the President to adopt measures to increase economic growth (e.g. tax reform, fiscal stability, expanded foreign trade, immigration reform), in order to create more and better paying jobs, government also has a responsibility to provide direct help to the needy who are trying to help themselves.  The EITC program is an excellent way to do this!

Will Higher Inflation Help the Economy?

The New York Times’ Eduardo Porter has a column in yesterday’s paper “Making the Case for a Rise in Inflation”, arguing that a 4% inflation rate, for example, would be a better target rate for the Federal Reserve than its present 2% target rate.   The idea is that higher inflation would lessen the value of a dollar, thereby eating away at our $12 trillion in public debt (on which we pay interest).  A lower value of the dollar would also boost the economy by making exports less expensive.  Higher inflation would likewise encourage consumers to spend more because the value of the dollar is decreasing more rapidly.
Mr. Porter does point out that there would be opposition to any policy of purposely letting inflation go up.  The best known Fed Chair in recent years, Paul Volcker, says that “All experience amply demonstrates that inflation, when fairly and deliberately started, is hard to control and reverse”.
The biggest problem, though, is the risky procedure of trying to boost the economy with monetary policy (quantitative easing, QE1, QE2 and QE3) rather than using fiscal policy (tax reform and deregulation).  The creation of an enormous amount of new money in a slow recovery creates huge upward pressure on inflation.  The economy is slowly improving on its own accord.  Very soon (in the next few years) the Fed will have to perform the difficult function of withdrawing money from the system fast enough to avoid inflation and, at the same time, slow enough, to keep interest rates from skyrocketing.  So the question is, will the Fed be able to simultaneously keep both inflation and interest rates under some kind of control?
For sure we don’t want to make its job more difficult by pushing inflation any higher than necessary at the present time!