What do two billionaire capitalists and two Nobel Prize-winning economists have in common? All four see a problem that few want to acknowledge or tackle. Recent comments from these four should alert us to the challenge we face and the need to take our heads out of the sand before it is too late.
Bill Gross, mutual fund founder and multi-billionaire, wrote in Pimco’s November 2013 Investment Outlook, “Developed economies work best when inequality of incomes are at a minimum.” Right now the U.S. ranks barely ahead of Greece and Spain in the Gini index which measures level of inequality in a country…. “Having gotten rich at the expense of labor, the guilt sets in and I begin to feel sorry for the less well-off.”…. “The era of taxing “capital” at lower rates than “labor” should now end. “Ordinary folks, the 99%, don’t have money anymore. The rich 1% and corporations do.” Until inequality is rebalanced, Gross believes the prospects for markets – regardless the asset class – is far from golden.
Recent winner of the Noble prize in economics, Robert Shiller, is equally concerned about the rising trend of inequality throughout the world. “It’s not the financial crisis per se, but the most important problem we are facing now, today, I think, is rising inequality in the United States and elsewhere in the world.”…. “We should be thinking about this now,” he continued,” calling for higher taxes on the wealthy if the gap between rich and poor continues to widen. “I think there’s a lot more we can do and it will help make a better society,” Shiller said.
Warren Buffet, capitalist extraordinaire and the world’s second richest person, has many of the same sentiments.“We don’t need to have the extremes of inequality that we have. The people at the bottom end should be doing better. I think it behooves this very rich country to have less inequality than we have.” “The rich are always going to say that, you know, just give us more money and we’ll go out and spend more and then it will all trickle down to the rest of you. But that has not worked the last 10 years, and I hope the American public is catching on.”
Another noble prize winner in economics, Joseph Stiglitz, echoes the views cited above. “Some people look at income inequality and shrug their shoulders. So what if this person gains and that person loses? What matters, they argue, is not how the pie is divided but the size of the pie. That argument is fundamentally wrong. An economy in which most citizens are doing worse year after year—an economy like America’s—is not likely to do well over the long haul…. The top 1 percent have the best houses, the best educations, the best doctors, and the best lifestyles, but there is one thing that money doesn’t seem to have bought: an understanding that their fate is bound up with how the other 99 percent live. Throughout history, this is something that the top 1 percent eventually do learn. Too late.”
The widening gap between the rich and poor is a worldwide phenomenon. It is critical that we tell those in power that the situation is not only unfair but unsustainable. For those still unconvinced check out “Mind the Gap: Danger Lurks as Income Disparity Widens” at www.consciousthinking.com