NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Is The Left Intellectually Dead?

May 26, 1999

During the 1980s, a flood of articles and books condemned Ronald Reagan's economic policies for making the rich richer. But the Left has been strangely quiet during the 1990s as the rich have become richer even faster on Bill Clinton's watch.

  • The top 5 percent of households increased their share of total income from 16.5 percent in 1980 to 18.3 percent in 1988.
  • According to the latest Census Bureau data, the top 5 percent of households raised their income share from 18.6 percent in 1992 to 21.7 percent in 1997.
  • Thus, in five years of the Clinton Administration the richest of the rich increased their share of income by 3.1 percent, compared with an increase of just 1.8 percent during Reagan's eight years.

Clinton's tax increases were largely used to reduce the deficit, which greatly enriched the wealthy by increasing the value of their government bonds, and he supported a cut in the capital gains tax to 20 percent in 1997.

But instead of attacking those policies, the Left is grousing. For instance, economist Robert Frank's new book, "Luxury Fever," is a tirade against conspicuous consumption that ignores the fact that Internet millionaires are creating wealth and employment for others. But his solution is simply to institute a consumption tax, a move many conservatives have long supported.

However, in "The Stakeholder Society," law professors Bruce Ackerman and Anne Alstott propose a redistributionist scheme to spend $250 billion per year to give every high school graduate $80,000 to spend as they see fit, financed by a tax on wealth.

This absurd plan is getting a respectful hearing in liberal publications, says Bartlett, and if this is the best the Left has to offer, it is truly dead intellectually.

Source: Bruce Bartlett, senior fellow, National Center for Policy Analysis, May 26, 1999.


Browse more articles on Economic Issues