Rich Getting Richer--NY Times

Doug Henwood dhenwood at
Mon Jun 24 09:10:40 MDT 1996

At 11:05 PM 6/23/96, Brian Carnell wrote:

>Unfortunately what the report left out was that in the U.S. the poor
>are also getting richer. The bottom 20% today have as much income as
>those in the top 50% had in the early 1950s.
>Pretty good progress.
>What happened to the income levels of people in socialist and
>communist nations?

Welcome back, bonehead; long time no hear.

Two points. First, as no less an authority than Adam Smith - the political
economist, not the Wall Street fellow - said, poverty is a matter of "the
custom of one's country," not some absolute level of income. To be poor in
1996 is different from having been poor in 1950; to be poor in Guatemala is
different from being poor in the USA. Besides, using a price index to
measure changes in "real" incomes over the course of 46 years is bad
economics; even a bourgeois dismal scientist would have reservations.

Second, there was a tremendous growth in incomes in the former USSR and
Eastern Europe from the 1950s through the mid-1970s. Income and
productivity growth relative to the US was, on average, better than Latin
America and South Asia. They started falling behind the US starting in the
mid-1970s, but then so did most of the Third World.

Question, Brian: would you rather live in Cuba or Haiti?



Doug Henwood
Left Business Observer
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