Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Does Inherited Wealth Really Help the Economy? A Reply to Greg Mankiw

Writing for the Upshot section of the New York Times, Harvard economist Greg Mankiw has weighed
in on the Pikkety debate. He accepts Pikkety’s scenario of ever increasing inequality as at least a “provocative speculation,” if not established fact, but then asks, So what? What is wrong with inequality and inherited wealth?

Nothing, says Mankiw. In fact, he maintains that if we consider not only the direct effects on the family but also the indirect effects on the broader economy, inherited wealth is good not just for the rich but for the rest of us as well:
When a family saves for future generations, it provides resources to finance capital investments, like the start-up of new businesses and the expansion of old ones. Greater capital, in turn, affects the earnings of both existing capital and workers.
Because capital is subject to diminishing returns, an increase in its supply causes each unit of capital to earn less. And because increased capital raises labor productivity, workers enjoy higher wages. In other words, by saving rather than spending, those who leave an estate to their heirs induce an unintended redistribution of income from other owners of capital toward workers.
This may be good textbook economics, but it should not be allowed to pass without three major caveats. >>>Read more

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