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Saez And Zucman’s Failure On Wealth Inequality

For aficionados of how the world is going to pot, the plutocrats are just sucking it all up, a correction to the Saez and Zucman estimates on wealth inequality:

It ain’t happening like they say it is.

There is though this interesting additional question:

The answer is, they don’t.

[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Our definition of wealth includes all pension wealth—
whether held in individual retirement accounts, or through pension funds and life insurance companies—with the exception of
Social Security and unfunded defined benefit pensions.4 Although
Social Security matters for saving decisions, the same is true for
all promises of future government transfers. Including Social
Security in wealth would thus call for including the present
value of future Medicare benefits, future government education
spending for one’s children, etc., net of future taxes. It is not clear
where to stop, and such computations are inherently fragile because of the lack of observable market prices for these types of
assets. Unfunded defined benefit pensions are promises of future
payments that are not backed by actual wealth. The vast majority
(94% in 2013) of unfunded pension entitlements are for government employees (federal and local), thus are conceptually similar
to promises of future government transfers, and just like those
are better excluded from wealth.[/perfectpullquote]

They exclude absolutely everything government already does to reduce wealth inequality. This is not a reasonable basis upon which to demand that something be done about wealth inequality. We must, at the very least, consider what is already being done before we call for more.

Another way to put this being that we institute the welfare state because we think it makes people richer to have a welfare state. Ignoring the welfare state when measuring wealth is thus more than just a tad misleading, isn’t it?

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Matt Ryan
Matt Ryan
1 year ago

If you include the stuff the government does to reduce inequality, do you get the preconcieved result you wanted from your report?

1 year ago
Reply to  Matt Ryan

I don’t have preconceived results and I don’t think that Tim does either – it’s more fun to find out new stuff than to spend hours, days or even weeks trying to torture data to fit a preconceived result.

Matt Ryan
Matt Ryan
1 year ago
Reply to  literate3

Not apparently if you are Saez and Zucman.

1 year ago

So according to these gentlemen we can close down the entire benefit system, all public funding, education, pensions, without making any difference?
Not sure that’s what they meant to say.

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