Monday, November 2, 2015

Robert Reich on the hidden causes of inequality

Americans pay more for basic goods and services than do citizens of other developed countries. Here are examples from Robert Reich's blog.

Much of the national debate about widening inequality focuses on whether and how much to tax the rich and redistribute their income downward.

But this debate ignores the upward redistributions going on every day, from the rest of us to the rich. These redistributions are hidden inside the market.

Here are just three examples.

Example #1: what we pay for pharmaceuticals

... Americans pay more for pharmaceuticals than do the citizens of any other developed nation.

That’s partly because it’s perfectly legal in the U.S. (but not in most other nations) for the makers of branded drugs to pay the makers of generic drugs to delay introducing cheaper unbranded equivalents, after patents on the brands have expired.

This costs you and me an estimated $3.5 billion a year – a hidden upward redistribution of our incomes to Pfizer, Merck, and other big proprietary drug companies, their executives, and major shareholders.

Example #2: what we pay for the internet

We also pay more for Internet service than do the inhabitants of any other developed nation.

The average cable bill in the United States rose 5 percent in 2012 (the latest year available), nearly triple the rate of inflation.

Why? Because 80 percent of us have no choice of Internet service provider, which allows them to charge us more.

Internet service here costs 3 and-a-half times more than it does in France, for example, where the typical customer can choose between 7 providers.

Example #3: what we pay for airline tickets

Some of these upward redistributions seem to defy gravity. Why have average domestic airfares risen 2.5% over the past, and are now at their the highest level since the government began tracking them in 1995 – while fuel prices, the largest single cost for the airlines, have plummeted?

Because America went from nine major carriers ten years ago to just four now. Many airports are now served by one or two.

This makes it easy for airlines to coordinate their fares and keep them high – resulting in another upward redistribution.

And there are more reasons for American exceptionalism

Add it up – the extra money we’re paying for pharmaceuticals, Internet communications, home mortgages, student loans, airline tickets, food, and health insurance – and you get a hefty portion of the average family’s budget.

Read Reich's blog for those additional hidden costs, highlighted above, that we pay into the supposedly free market.

Democrats and Republicans spend endless time battling over how much to tax the rich and then redistribute the money downward.

But if we didn’t have so much upward redistribution inside the market, we wouldn’t need as much downward redistribution through taxes and transfer payments.

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