American Capitalism Is Fine, Thank You

The real debate is whether to accept the creative destruction at the heart of the free-market system.

Today, American Democrats have a more positive view of socialism than capitalism, and less than half of young adults have a positive view of capitalism. But the debate isn’t merely between left-wing socialists and right-wing capitalists. Even President Trump argues that capitalism generates prosperity abroad at the expense of American workers. Years of wage stagnation and diminished economic prospects have soured many Americans on the system that made the U.S. the world’s largest economy.

Compared with faster-growing economies in the developing world, America feels older, and not only because the elderly will soon outnumber children. Important parts of the economy, from smartphones and cellular carriers to airlines, resemble sluggish oligopolies more than dynamic marketplaces. Ever more sectors of the economy look like heavily regulated utilities that are at reduced risk of disruption or innovation. In health care, hospitals, physician groups and insurance companies are getting bigger and in some cases driving out competitors.

The Trouble With Taxing Wealth

Elizabeth Warren’s proposed tax on net worth seems like a nearly surgical strike at inequality, but it may not be efficient

The median U.S. family’s income, adjusted for inflation, fell 4% between 2007 and 2016, while its wealth plummeted 20%, according to Federal Reserve figures. For the richest 10% of families, median income rose 9% while wealth leapt 27%.
More than 80% of American households had less wealth in 2016 than on the eve of the last recession, in great part because their homes, the principal asset for most families, were below their precrisis values whereas stocks, whose ownership is concentrated among the rich, have roughly doubled since 2007..
.. This poses a number of challenges. For the middle class, stagnant wealth limits their ability to
  • buy a home,
  • pay for college or
  • respond to a financial emergency.

Wealth imbalances may also undercut economic growth because assets, which typically rise in response to interest rate cuts, are concentrated among people who are less inclined to spend.

This poses a number of challenges. For the middle class, stagnant wealth limits their ability to buy a home, pay for college or respond to a financial emergency. Wealth imbalances may also undercut economic growth because assets, which typically rise in response to interest rate cuts, are concentrated among people who are less inclined to spend.

For policy makers who want to tax the rich more, this limits the reach of income and consumption taxes. Shielding capital income leaves a big chunk of the richest families’ incomes untouched by taxes, says Greg Leiserson, director of tax policy at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, a left-of-center think tank.

.. Ms. Warren estimates only 75,000 families would pay her tax, yet it would raise $2.75 trillion over 10 years.

..  It was barely a year ago that Republicans slashed the U.S. corporate tax rate to closer to international levels in hopes of juicing growth. A wealth tax would go in the opposite direction. For example, on an investment in a company averaging 8% annual returns, a shareholder may expect her holdings to grow 8% per year. A 3% wealth tax on that increase represents, on average, an implicit 37.5% income tax, on top of the corporate taxes

And unlike the corporate tax, it would have to be paid even if the company made no money that year.

.. That wouldn’t necessarily undercut growth, because the U.S. could turn to foreign savings to finance an investment. This, however, means foreigners would take a bigger share of U.S. income.

.. There may be more effective ways to tax wealth. A large chunk of capital gains are never taxed because shareholders bequeath shares to their heirs without selling them. President Barack Obama proposed in one of his budgets taxing unrealized capital gains at death. 

Adam Looney, a Brookings Institution economist who worked on the proposal, says it would have raised roughly $200 billion over a decade. Mr. Auerbach says taxation at death seems to have less effect on the saving of the wealthy than taxation during life.

.. An even better response would be to attack the concentration of economic power that results in monopoly-like profits by reducing barriers to competition. Competition policy, unlike tax policy, faces no trade off between equality and growth.

Episode 322: Keep Christianity Weird with Michael Frost

Much of the Evangelical Industrial Complex has been created to make Christianity relevant, acceptable, and attractive to our consumer culture. Author and missional expert, Michael Frost, says this is a mistake. Instead, we should be emphasizing our faith’s weirdness and call more Christians to be eccentric—literally “off center.” Also this week: Phil and Skye take on “The Good Place,” a TV show about heaven without God or religion, the UK’s Supreme Court rules in favor of a Christian baker, and (fake) butt news from a Hawaiian seal hospital.

Don’t Fix Facebook. Replace It.

what we most need now is a new generation of social media platforms that are fundamentally different in their incentives and dedication to protecting user data. Barring a total overhaul of leadership and business model, Facebook will never be that platform.

.. In Facebook’s case, we are not speaking of a few missteps here and there, the misbehavior of a few aberrant employees. The problems are central and structural, the predicted consequences of its business model. From the day it first sought revenue, Facebook prioritized growth over any other possible goal, maximizing the harvest of data and human attention. Its promises to investors have demanded an ever-improving ability to spy on and manipulate large populations of people. Facebook, at its core, is a surveillance machine, and to expect that to change is misplaced optimism.

.. If we have learned anything over the last decade, it is that advertising and data-collection models are incompatible with a trustworthy social media network. The conflicts are too formidable, the pressure to amass data and promise everything to advertisers is too strong for even the well-intentioned to resist.

.. the real challenge is gaining a critical mass of users.

.. Facebook, with its 2.2 billion users, will not disappear, and it has a track record of buying or diminishing its rivals (see Instagram and Foursquare).

.. Wikipedia is a nonprofit, and it manages nearly as much traffic as Facebook, on a much smaller budget. An “alt-Facebook” could be started by Wikimedia, or by former Facebook employees, many of whom have congregated at the Center for Humane Technology, a nonprofit for those looking to change Silicon Valley’s culture.

.. If today’s privacy scandals lead us merely to install Facebook as a regulated monopolist, insulated from competition, we will have failed completely. The world does not need an established church of social media.