Saturday, July 21, 2007


In a fascinating NY Times feature, Louis Uchitelle examines the "New Gilded Age." He writes:
These days, Mr. [Sanford I.] Weill and many of the nation’s very wealthy chief executives, entrepreneurs and financiers echo an earlier era — the Gilded Age before World War I — when powerful enterprises, dominated by men who grew immensely rich, ushered in the industrialization of the United States. The new titans often see themselves as pillars of a similarly prosperous and expansive age, one in which their successes and their philanthropy have made government less important than it once was.
Some of the new tycoons naturally try to justify their position at the top of an increasingly unequal distribution of income and wealth:
Other very wealthy men in the new Gilded Age talk of themselves as having a flair for business not unlike Derek Jeter’s “unique talent” for baseball, as Leo J. Hindery Jr. put it. “I think there are people, including myself at certain times in my career,” Mr. Hindery said, “who because of their uniqueness warrant whatever the market will bear.”

He counts himself as a talented entrepreneur, having assembled from scratch a cable television sports network, the YES Network. “Jeter makes an unbelievable amount of money,” said Mr. Hindery, who now manages a private equity fund, “but you look at him and you say, ‘Wow, I cannot find another ballplayer with that same set of skills.’ ”

Derek Jeter, of course, is vastly over-rated. As are, perhaps, the new super-rich:

“I don’t see a relationship between the extremes of income now and the performance of the economy,” Paul A. Volcker, a former Federal Reserve Board chairman, said in an interview, challenging the contentions of the very rich that they are, more than others, the driving force of a robust economy.
Of course:
The new tycoons oppose raising taxes on their fortunes.
Fairness is in the eye of the beholder, but the US economy actually grew faster when top marginal tax rates were higher. Here is the annual average growth in real GDP and the average annual top marginal tax rates for the US, by decade:

1951-60 - 3.42 - 91.2%
1961-70 - 4.11 - 78.4%
1971-80 - 3.14 - 70.0%
1981-90 - 3.21 - 44.5%
1991-2000 - 3.22 - 37.9%
2001-2006 - 2.51 - 36.2%

Accompanying the article is a nifty interactive graphic with the top 30 all-time richest Americans. Bill Gates is the one in the pink polo shirt (he really should consider a top hat). [Tax data are from the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center]

1 comment:

The Arthurian said...

I like the last part of this old post, with the growth rates by decade. But that third column... People draw conclusions from stuff like that.

Is there (asked the hobbyist) a "best" way to calculate those growth rates? Whole-period growth-rate, divided by 10... or a single rate, compounded 9 to 10 times... or something else?