Thursday, February 21, 2019

Inequality: The New Growth Industry in Higher Education

Taxation has jumped to the forefront of 2020.  Democrats and their intellectual allies, including the mega-rich themselves, are calling for a blizzard of higher taxes on the rich and wealthy.  Some advocate higher marginal income tax rates up to 70-80% on those earning over a million dollars while others propose wealth taxes on centi-millionaires and billionaires, higher estate and gift taxes, higher property taxes on trophy properties, and higher consumption taxes.

Why now and why not during the last two elections?  Partly in response to President Trump’s tax cuts?  Partly in response to huge runup in the stock market since the bottom of the financial crisis in 2010, which disproportionately enriched the top 1% of equity holders?  Partly in response to the emergence of a hard new redistributionist left in the Democrat Party?  Partly in response to the declining influence of aged supply-side economists in universities and think tanks?

Four keystones underpin higher education.

First is Diversity.  Diversity (and Inclusion) is now settled doctrine.  Colleges and universities are moving at full speed to implement the agenda.  Older cohorts of White professors are steadily being replaced by women and under-represented minorities, who support and benefit from Diversity.

Second is Environmentalism.  Environmentalism (global warming, climate change, extreme weather events) is almost settled doctrine.  The vast majority of professors and think tankers contend that greenhouse gas emissions threaten the survival of the planet and life as we know it. They warn that irreparable damage will be done unless expansive measures, regardless of cost, are taken now to reduce carbon emissions (Green New Deal).

Third is Democracy (democratic governance), which has petered out.  After a flurry of gains in the past few decades, democratic governance is on a downhill slope in Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America.  Some scholars put the United States under Trump on that downhill trajectory.  Fellows and professors staffing centers for democracy in think tanks and universities have little to say about this discouraging trend except to bemoan it, with no new ideas to counter the trend.  All the older ideas they proposed have been tried and failed.

Fourth is Inequality, the topic du jour.  This fourth theme has given rise to demands for higher taxes on the rich and wealthy.

The Institute for Policy Studies has an aggregator site on Inequality.  It identifies 10 academic centers, 8 think tanks, 6 public interest groups, and 8 organizing projects focusing on inequality.  The site identifies 6 kinds of inequality (income, wealth, global, health, racial, gender) and 25 inequality topics (ranging from executive pay and taxation to social mobility and the racial divide).  As of late February 2019, it included 830 articles and essays on various aspects of inequality.  In the coming years, studies on inequality and political action to reduce it (poverty reduction, threats to democracy) will likely grow to match the scope and size of Diversity and Environmentalism.  A generation of undergraduate and graduate students are being educated on inequality and its detriments.  The pipeline of new Ph.D.’s will fill faculty slots for decades, who will advise politicians and publish papers supporting higher taxes.  Inequality studies threaten to overwhelm real world experience proving the benefits of low taxes and the harm of high taxes, a battle that has been fought since the beginning of recorded civilization.

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