Matt Bruenig

Matt Bruenig is a blogger at PolicyShop. Follow him on Twitter

Recent Articles

How the Left Sees Liberty

Generally, I like to talk about liberty the way that libertarians do. I primarily do that because liberty, as discussed by libertarians, actually makes private property ownership an injustice. Because few people ever bother to think about that, adopting libertarian notions of liberty in my interactions with people of that persuasion is a never-ending well of hilarity. “What do you mean unilaterally grabbing up pieces of the scarce world without the consent of others (whose previously-existing access you steal away) and then violently attacking people who don’t go along with your fiat claims of ownership is aggression?” they say, “that’s just homesteading followed by self-defense!” And on it goes. The problem with the libertarian and right-wing notions of liberty is not just that they implode; it’s that there is a more plausible notion of liberty offered up by the left-wing that is only really achievable through leftist political economy. Under this, liberty is achieved when...

Inequality Is a Function of Political Power

Scott Sumner has become famous in the internet world and elsewhere as monetarism’s most capable defender. Sumner has a lot of things to say, but one is illustrative for my purposes here. Sumner argues that advocates of fiscal stimulus often make the mistake in their arguments of assuming away monetary policy as static or accommodating. His point is that you can’t do that because the efficacy of fiscal policy always depends on what monetary policy is doing in the background. This same basic point also needs to be driven home for those who want to talk about how this or that thing will affect the distribution of income in society. Matt Yglesias’ review of Tyler Cowen’s new book gives us an excellent jumping off point for what I mean. In his book, Cowen apparently argues that coming technological changes will have certain negative effects on median incomes. Yglesias rightly points out (as does Cowen) that this outcome will only come if we fail to implement certain policies that will...

How Much Money Would It Take to Eliminate Poverty In America?

Last week, the Census Bureau put out its annual income and poverty figures for 2012 . The big news on the poverty front is that the percentage of Americans living in poverty is unchanged at 15 percent, which amounts to 46.5 million Americans. More than one in five kids under the age of 18 are in poverty, and nearly one in four kids under the age of six are impoverished as well. These are numbers we’ve all become accustomed to, but they can still shock the conscience if you make an effort to let them soak in again. The sheer scale of poverty in the U.S. is so massive that it can seem as if eliminating or dramatically reducing it would be nearly impossible. After all, 46 million people is a lot of people. But in reality, if we stick to the official poverty line, the amount of money standing in the way of poverty eradication is much lower than people realize. In its annual poverty report, the Census Bureau includes a table that few take note of which actually details by how much families...

Libertarianism's Battle With History

(Flickr/Iazaro)
Economic libertarianism’s most amusing failing is philosophical. In particular, the non-aggression form of libertarianism so popular among the Paul clan and their followers quite straightforwardly generates the conclusion that all private property is unjust theft . Internal contradictions abound in libertarianism, but that is surely the most problematic one. As much as I enjoy the philosophical arguments, experience tells me others prefer an approach that seem less like game-playing. If you are that kind of person, then you are in luck. Karl Polanyi wrote The Great Transformation in 1944 to provide a more meaty historical and sociological takedown of the libertarian approach to the market economy. The first thing to note is that free market capitalism hasn’t always been around. If you listen to libertarians long enough, you may get the sense that laissez-faire capitalism is the natural and default way of the world. But in fact, it's a newcomer in the historical scene. All of known...

Middle-Class Blacks and Whites Have Vastly Different Fortunes

With the passing of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, commentators have been assessing the status of blacks in society. Matt Yglesias has a post about the black-white income gap, and how it has not budged in 40 years. Brad Plumer has a post at Wonkblog that features ten charts showing the persistence of the black-white economic gap, including rates of unemployment, poverty, and so on. The statistics provided in these posts—and indeed most statistics provided on this question—compare all blacks against all whites. This kind of comparison is worth making for certain purposes, but it also has its limitations. By itself, such group-level comparisons lend themselves to the hasty conclusion that the difference between the economic situations of blacks and whites is mainly that blacks are more concentrated on the low end of the economic ladder. When you've concluded that the black-white disparity is primarily an issue of black over-representation on the bottom and white over-...

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