Over at the Columbia Journalism Review blog, Ryan Chittum takes issue with everything I wrote about income inequality in a recent post. (I don’t think he cared much for the font, either.) My piece merely pointed to several studies — ones rarely mentioned by the mainstream media — that suggest a) income inequality is hardly “exploding,” and b) the past 30 years have hardly been a lost three decades for the American middle class. My response:
1. Chittum thinks I have misused a study by Northwestern University economist Robert Gordon. Does Gordon believe inequality has increased? He does, indeed. The first sentence of the study, which Chittum highlights in his post: “The evidence is incontrovertible that American income inequality has increased in the United States since the 1970s.”
But lots of studies make that claim. It is the next part that I found interesting:
This paper shows that the rise in American inequality has been exaggerated in at least three senses. First, the conventional measure showing a large gap between growth of median real household income and of productivity greatly overstates the increase compared to a conceptually consistent alternative gap concept, which increases at only one‐tenth the rate of the conventional gap between 1979 and 2007. … Second, the increase of inequality is not a steady ongoing process; after widening most rapidly between 1981 and 1993, the growth of inequality reversed itself and became negative during 2000‐2007.
Chittum, nor other liberal economic pundits such as Ezra Klein, Jonathan Chait, Kevin Drum, Ryan Avent, have made an effort to dispute Gordon, hardly a conservative economist. Liberals don’t even like quoting that above bit.
2. Chittum really likes studies from the union-backed EPI. But when I looked at the issue of middle-class stagnation, I went with analysis from the Federal Reserve, more likely free of political influence. And here is what a Minneapolis Fed researcher found:
I calculate that median Census income per person rose by 50 percent. … The claim that the standard of living of middle Americans has stagnated over the past generation is common. An accompanying assertion is that virtually all income growth over the past three decades bypassed middle America and accrued almost entirely to the rich. The findings reported here … refute those claims. Careful analysis shows that the incomes of most types of middle American households have increased substantially over the past three decades.
Maybe Gordon and the Fed and many other academics are just “deniers,” unworthy of serious debate. But to me that sound like a clumsy effort to silence debate rather than encourage a competitive marketplace of ideas.