The New York Times offers some facts: No, it didn’t make the front page. The front page of the New York Times is reserved for Mitt Romney’s marriage and hair.
But in Tuesday’s New York Times, Jason DeParle offered an intriguing report about the pain of the top one percent. Things haven’t been going well for this group, a fact you may not have heard.
We don’t mean to direct our snark at DeParle, who compiled a fact-filled report. That said, the gentleman opened his piece with a counterintuitive fact:
DEPARLE (12/13/11): Top Earners Not So Lofty in the Days of RecessionZounds! That’s a rather large drop over just two years, but we’ll assume the data are accurate. For us, the humor began when DeParle consulted one of the nation’s many brilliant professors:
Hold the condolence cards, but the recession cost the rich.
The share of income received by the top 1 percent—that potent symbol of inequality—dropped to 17 percent in 2009 from 23 percent in 2007, according to federal tax data. Within the group, average income fell to $957,000 in 2009 from $1.4 million in 2007.
Analysts say the drop largely reflects the stock market plunge, and most think top incomes recovered somewhat in 2010, as Wall Street rebounded and corporate profits grew. Still, the drop alters a figure often emphasized by inequality critics, and it has gone largely unnoticed outside the blogosphere.
DEPARLE (continuing directly): By focusing on the top 1 percent, the Occupy Wall Street movement has made economic fairness a subject of street protest and political debate.If people weren’t complaining then, DeParle’s report plainly suggests that they should have been. In 1980, the top one percent were gobbling up ten percent of the nation’s income, DeParle reports. By the year 2000, the percentage had risen to 22 percent. If there’s a problem with that degree of inequality, people should have been complaining during the 1990s. Kaplan made a wonderful try, but we'd say his logic failed.
“It’s very interesting that this has become such a big topic now when the numbers are back to where they were in the 1990s,” said Steven Kaplan, an economist at the University of Chicago’s business school. “People didn’t seem to be complaining about it then.”
Is there a problem with that degree of inequality? The Times reserves its big news holes for analyses of friendship patterns among the Republican candidates. For that reason, DeParle got secondary billing (below the fold on page B1), and a limited number of words. If the Times had given this piece larger play, DeParle might have addressed two limitations of this report:
DeParle discusses the top one percent. But as Paul Krugman often notes, the real story involves a smaller cohort—the top one-tenth of the top one percent. That is where the big money goes. We would be curious about the way their income has slid.
Beyond that, the problem with this pattern involves more than income alone. The people who make the really big swag will sometimes use it to buy politicians. From a progressive standpoint, it’s a good idea to stress this part of the problem, which extends beyond the fact that some folk make much more than most.
Finally, we were struck by DeParle’s attempt to explain the growth in lucky-duck income. He listed quite a few alleged factors:
DEPARLE: [I]nequality has been growing for three decades, driven by economic and political forces. Globalization created larger markets for those with scarce talents but hurt less educated workers by pitting them against cheap foreign labor. New technology also hurt unskilled workers, by replacing many with machines.Why did the lucky duckies start to score so much swag in the past few decades? DeParle starts with several alleged factors which don’t seem to reflect anyone’s deliberate choices. Before long, though, he hits a few more interesting points, factors he doesn't explain. Why were “paydays heavily weighted toward the top?” Why did “corporate culture accept the growing gap between the executive suite and the factory floor?” And good grief:
Unions declined, eroding blue-collar bargaining power. The financial industry grew, with paydays heavily weighted toward the top. Corporate culture accepted the growing gap between the executive suite and the factory floor.
Falling tax rates on the highest earners added to the net income divide, by allowing top earners to keep more of their pay and increasing their incentive to maximize it.
In the decades after World War II, by contrast, the average income of the top 1 percent grew only marginally faster than inflation and significantly slower than middle-class incomes. That combination caused inequality to decline throughout much of the 1950, ’60s and early ’70s.
If the lucky duckies were snorkeling in so much additional swag, why on earth did we also see “falling tax rates on the highest earners?” In our view, there is a fascinating cultural story here, the story told in the film Wall Street. That story is obscured in DeParle’s list of causes, which is ruled by some category errors.
That said, this was a fact-filled report. But it didn’t concern Romney’s marriage or hair or hisrecent use of "zany." For these reasons, it was buried below the fold on B1.
It didn’t run Ashley Parker length, with photos. You had to seek this one out.