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Welcome Lane Kenworthy

by Henry Farrell on April 13, 2009

Lane Kenworthy will be guest-blogging with us for a little bit. He is a professor of sociology and political science (and former colleague of Kieran’s) at University of Arizona. Lane is an economic sociologist, with a particular interest in the political economy of inequality in the US and elsewhere. His most recent book is “Jobs with Equality”:, which really does groundbreaking work in arguing that the trade-offs between employment growth and economic equality are much, much weaker than conventional wisdom holds them to be. Lane blogs at “Consider the Evidence”: We’re really happy to have him with us.

Lane Kenworthy Profiled

by Kieran Healy on May 2, 2008

My colleague Lane Kenworthy is profiled this week at normblog. Lane’s blog, Consider the Evidence, is well worth your time.

Kenworthy on Nixonland

by Kieran Healy on June 19, 2008

My colleague Lane Kenworthy reviews Rick Perlstein’s Nixonland, proving in the process that he is a faster reader (and writer) than me.

Is Perlstein right about what happened during these years? Did America harden into two warring camps? I think an argument can be made that something very different occurred: the developments of the 1960s coupled with (and accentuated by) Nixon’s political tactics opened up new fissures that left the political landscape not more crystallized, but more clouded. Instead of shifting from (more or less) one America to two, the shift was, arguably, toward a greater multiplicity of political identities that the two political parties had to struggle mightily to try to shape into manageable coalitions.

More at Lane’s.

Kenworthy and Rauchway in the blogosphere

by Henry Farrell on December 14, 2007

Two great new blogs by academics who I admire but have never met. First, Lane Kenworthy, author of many articles and a few books on the comparative politics of inequality, is now blogging at “Consider the Evidence”: This “post”:, for example, does a nice job of bringing together some of the data on economic risk (on which more soon), and looks at how the incipient credit crunch and the high number of families that already have two parents in the workforce means that lower income households simply don’t have much margin to cope any more with unexpected financial emergencies.

households now appear to be more sensitive to serious short-run financial strains — job loss, a medical problem that results in significant cost (due to lack of health insurance or inadequate coverage), a hike in rent, a rise in mortgage payments (as a low-interest-rate adjustable mortgage rolls over). A generation ago a household could adjust to this type of event by having the second adult take a temporary job to provide extra income. During the economic boom of the late 1990s they might have been able to switch jobs in order to get a pay increase. In the past ten years they could run up credit card debt or take out a home equity loan. For many households with moderate or low incomes, these strategies are now foreclosed.

Second, Eric Rauchway at UC Davis is blogging together with Ari Kelman at “The Edge of the American West”: One of his “posts”: gets stuck into the recent “outbreak”: of the liberal bias in the academy thing in the Washington Post op-ed pages, and generates an interesting conversation in the comments section about where you can find intelligent and intellectually honest conservatives in the US. I’d add Steve Bainbridge to the people listed in the comments section; also “Clive Crook”: and Clive Davis (who I don’t follow as much as I should now that he’s at the “Spectator”: and doesn’t have his own RSS feed any more). Both of the latter are Brits, of course. Does anyone have other nominations for interesting conservatives in the blogosphere or elsewhere? Please: no need to list obvious suspects at high profile blogs like Orin Kerr, nor to state that there ain’t any such thing as an interesting honest conservative. I know that this latter view has some adherents among CT readers, but its restatement in response to questions of this sort is kinda like telling people who are troubleshooting their PCs that the obvious solution is to buy a Mac.

Following up my initial response to Lane Kenworthy, I decided to approach the question from a different direction and ask “Would we be better off without corporations?”. That is, I’d like to consider a society in which all large enterprises were publicly owned. To be clear, I’m talking about corporations in the ordinary sense of the term, with large numbers of shareholders and employees, not about the (relatively recent) use of company structures to produce tax benefits and limited liability for small businesses. There would still be room for owner-operated private businesses, worker-controlled co-operatives, partnerships and perhaps some other forms of business I haven’t thought about.

I won’t get into disputes about whether this would constitute socialism, except to say that it would be radically different from any version of capitalism we’ve seen so far.I’m also going to reverse the burden of proof implicit in Kenworthy’s approach. I start from the assumption that the expansion of corporate power under the neoliberal (or market liberal) policy package of privatisation, financialisation and deunionisation that has prevailed since the 1970s has been bad for most of us.

Given that neoliberalism is a term that’s often used loosely, I’ll try to be more specific about the adverse effects that can be tied specifically to the resurgence of corporate power.

The most obvious is the growth in inequality that has coincided with the rise of neoliberalism and corporate power. Virtually every aspect of neoliberal policy reform from increasing capital mobility to union-busting to flattening of tax scales has contributed to increased inequality. Moreover, they all reinforce each other.
?So, if we can do without for-profit corporations without incurring significant economic costs, we should.

I started looking at this on a sector-by-sector basis but then realised I would need to write a whole book in reply. So, over the fold, some disorganized thoughts
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Would Democratic Socialism be Better?

by John Q on July 5, 2022

(Reposted, as I previously forgot to open comments)

I’ve just received a copy of Lane Kenworthy’s latest back Would Democratic Socialism be Better (Shorter LK: “capitalism, and particularly social democratic capitalism, is better
than many democratic socialists seem to think”).

The book is a follow-up to his Social Democratic Capitalism, which made the case that the USA would be better off moving to a Nordic model of social democracy.

I’m hoping to make a longer response soon, but I thought I’d begin by summing up the argument as I see it, and the reasons I’m unconvinced.

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Colin Crouch – The Strange Non-Death of Neo-Liberalism

by Henry Farrell on September 26, 2011

Cover note – over the next several months, I hope to review as many new books on the political economy of advanced industrialized societies post-2008 as I can. There is a lot of interesting work out being done which isn’t getting covered as well as it should in US public debate. Next up: Lane Kenworthy.

Conflict of interest warning: Although I’ve I’ve tried to review the book as though it were written by a complete stranger, Colin was effectively the co-supervisor of my dissertation and is a friend (albeit one whom I don’t see nearly enough of).

Colin Crouch – The Strange Non-Death of Neo-Liberalism (available from Powells, “Amazon”: (deprecated)).

The Strange Non-Death of Neo-Liberalism looks at the prospects of neo-liberalism (which Crouch sees as claiming that “optimal outcomes will be achieved if the demand and supply for goods and services are allowed to adjust to each other through the price mechanism, without interference by government or other forces”) post-2008, and argues that they are pretty good. Even if neoliberalism _should_ have been discredited, it is emerging more powerfully than ever, as states cut back welfare and public spending in the wake of the crisis. Crouch argues that neoliberalism, despite its claims, is effectively “devoted to the dominance of public life by the giant corporation.” What neo-liberals, and some leftists, see as a conflict between the market and the state is in fact an argument over how the two should relate to each other. Neoliberals are not pushing for free markets so much as a certain style of politics, which masquerades as a commitment to free markets, independent of politics, but in fact is an unhealthy hybridization of the two. To the extent that politics pervades markets, and markets pervades politics, both suffer.
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by Henry Farrell on August 4, 2011

“Matt Yglesias”: responds to Chris’s post below, by suggesting that British “lefties”‘ criticisms of New Labour’s record on inequality are discredited by a Lane Kenworthy graph, which he says he’ll take as a decisive argument in favor of what he calls “progressive neo-liberalism,” “until [he sees] a rebuttal of it.” But didn’t we have a rebuttal of Yglesias’ interpretation from “Brian Weatherson”:, the last time he was pushing this line, back in October 2010? Perhaps he found this rebuttal inadequate in some way. But even if this were so, one would have thought that Lane’s own quite specific and limited explanation of what the graph suggests – that it showed that the UK poor probably did better under Labour than they would have under the Conservatives – might have given him pause (I’m quite sure that Chris, for all his dislike of New Labour, would agree with Lane’s claim here).

I also should note that he had a “go”: last week at John Quiggin’s arguments about inequality, where he suggested that NYU professors had it pretty good, and that:

bq. a lot of the political dialogue I see online seems to consist of a slightly strange form of class resentment in which intellectuals, nonprofit workers, or public servants express bitterness about the high incomes of businesspeople whose lives they don’t actually envy.

I wrote a somewhat ill-tempered post in response to this, and then deleted it, because I wasn’t greatly looking forward to policing the comments section. So I’ll limit myself to saying that Yglesias’ aside certainly doesn’t do justice to the genuine and quite serious debates around inequality, which, as far as I can see, are not being driven by ‘class resentments’ but by a genuine and well-founded dismay about the current state of the US political economy. Enormous disparities of wealth help reinforce huge disparities in political power (see e.g. Bartels’ findings on how the interests of different economic segments get represented in the electoral process) in a self reinforcing cycle. That’s a problem – and it’s a _particularly big problem_ for someone who wants to concentrate on maximizing growth first, and only on sharing out the goodies afterwards. As “Cosma says”: in the best post on this broad set of topics that I’ve read to date.

bq. “When you tell us that (1) the important thing is to maximize economic growth, and never mind the distributional consequences because (2) we can always redistribute through progressive taxation and welfare payments, you are assuming a miracle in step 2.” For where is the political power to enact that taxation and redistribution, and keep it going, going to come from? A sense of _noblesse oblige_ is too much to hope for (especially given how many of our rich people have taken lots of economics courses), and, for better or worse, voluntary concessions will no longer come from fear of revolution.

To be clear – I think that Matthew Yglesias is an extremely smart and interesting writer, even when I disagree with him, as I often do. He’s a net contributor to US public debate. But when he comes up against this particular set of issues, he has an unfortunate tendency to wave difficulties in his position away by making -unsubstantiated imputations about the motives of people who bring up the problem of wealth inequality, and- (update: now withdrawn – see his comment below) referring to graphs which don’t actually say what he thinks they say. I wish he’d do better.

Update – I see that Chris has also updated his post in response.

What they don’t ask

by Chris Bertram on August 4, 2011

Last night’s BBC Newsnight in the UK featured “an item on living standards”: (at about 29′) and an interview with Doug McWillians of the “Centre for Economics and Business Research”: think tank (whoever they are). McWilliams asserted that the UK faces a decline in living standards of 25 per cent over the next 20 years or so because of wage competition from overseas: “we” are going to be 25 per cent worse off. I have no idea how plausible this is.{fn1} However, if I’d been the interviewer I’d have followed up by asking McWilliams, “so, the economy is going to shrink by 25 per cent over the next few years?” Because I’m pretty sure that the economy is going to continue to grow, and that McWilliams also believes this, (eventually, and maybe sluggishly) and asking that follow-up would have forced him to make it explicit that he thinks we face a future of contraegalitarian redistribution (and, judging by some of the other elements in the item, longer hours). Unfortunately, the question never came. Until these questions get asked though, we’ll still have a political debate dominated by the assumption that growth-promoting policies will provide people with better lives, even though it seems that they won’t. (Which doesn’t, of course, establish that in the absence of such policies things wouldn’t get even worse.) To protect and improve the real living standards of ordinary people, we need to get redistribution explicitly onto the agenda and not just allow the assumption that rising tides lift (the key political assumption of “left neoliberalism” it seems to me) to stand.

1. To be fair, McWilliams says the decline isn’t predetermined, but can be avoided if “we” provide ourselves with enough in the way of high-tech skills to “command a premium”. Of course this is another feature of the “left neoliberal” toolkit, but as the experience of new Labour shows, it is one thing to sloganize (“education, education, education”) it is another to actually change things.

UPDATE: For some reason Matthew Yglesias has “linked to this post”: taking it to be a data-free assertion that Blair and Brown failed on inequality (I believe that they failed, but it isn’t the subject of this post) and then waving around a Lane Kenworthy graph that he’s fond of in refutation. Two points: (1) the only point in the post that touched on the failure of New Labour was the footnote, which alludes to their record on education not inequality; (2) “Brian posted a few months ago”: in response to “the last time”: Matt deployed his favourite graph against “me on New Labour’s record”: on inequality, given that, I’m surprised Matt is still waving it around.

Fun with Gini Coefficients

by Brian on October 1, 2010

Income Change under Conservatives and Labour “Matt Yglesias”: and “Brad DeLong”: have argued that this graph, from “Lane Kenworthy”:, shows that we shouldn’t be too critical of Labour’s performance with respect to inequality over their 12 years of government in Britain.

Both Matt and Brad are pushing back against “Chris’s post below”:, which argued that Labour had done very little about equality. (Although in his remark on my comment on his post, Brad now seems to suggest that his post was a pre-emptive strike against what Chris would go on to write in comments.) There’s a natural rejoinder on behalf of Chris, which has been well made in both Matt and Brad’s comments threads. Namely, if the graph really showed that things had gotten better, equality-wise, the Gini coefficient for the UK would have fallen. But in fact it rose, somewhat significantly, over Labour’s term. Indeed, the “IFS Report”: that the graph is based on shows quite clearly that it rose markedly towards the end of Labour’s term.

So I got to thinking about how good a measure “Gini coefficients”: are of equality. I think the upshot of what I’ll say below is that Chris’s point is right – if things were really going well, you’d expect Gini coefficients to fall. But it’s messy, particularly because Gini’s are much more sensitive to changes at the top than the bottom.

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What Produced the Inequality Boom?

by Henry Farrell on July 28, 2010

Riffing off John’s “post of a few days ago”:, the most recent issue of Politics and Society (which, as I noted before, “has free access”: for the next few months” ) has a pretty interesting debate on this topic. There are four contender. One of these – the standard technology-leading-to-inequality-story – is not discussed at any length in _Politics and Society_, but this accont doesn’t in any event tell us why there has been substantial variation in the impact of technology on different industrialized democracies, and hence requires at the least an account of intermediating forces.

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Political Veto Points and the Politics of Drift

by Henry Farrell on July 15, 2010

_Politics and Society,_ which is my favorite journal, has a special issue centered on Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson’s “Winner Take-All Politics” argument. They’ve made it “freely available”: for a couple of months, and I recommend people read it, not only for the “Hacker and Pierson piece”:, but for the responses from Lane Kenworthy, Neil Fligstein and others. I’ll be writing a few posts on this, and wanted to start out by pointing to Hacker and Pierson’s discussion of one interesting and not immediately obvious implication of the Senate filibuster and other forms of veto. Very obviously, they make it harder for new pieces of legislation to get through. But they also lead to problems with existing legislation. Over time, legislation can become increasingly unmoored from its supposed purposes, as society changes. Alternatively, existing legislation can turn out to have quite unexpected loopholes. But reorienting legislation or closing loopholes will be very difficult when there are veto points such as super-majoritarian requirements. Hacker and Pierson give the example of an obscure loophole dating back decades, which has been used in a quite unanticipated way to allow hedge fund managers to have their management fees counted as capital gains rather than income (and thus taxed at a much lower rate). Recent efforts to amend the tax code to get rid of this loophole failed in the Senate, and are (as best as I know) unlikely to be revived. This kind of “drift” is also advantageous to politicians who want to favor influential interest groups, because it means that they can protect their interests through inaction (which is often politically invisible) rather than direct action.

It is worth noting though that this mechanism cuts against some of Hacker and Pierson’s previous arguments in _Off-Center._ There, they suggested that the Republican use of sunset clauses to get tax cuts through were likely to lead to long run change.

bq. it means that future politicians will face a fundamental political quandary: Should they allow enacted provisions of the tax code to expire, explicitly taking from (for the most part, wealthy) taxpayers benefits that they already enjoy? Or should they extend these provisions, incurring the $4 trillion in lost revenue and additional debt service that the sunset provisions of the tax cuts represent? The sunsets, in short, create an unprecedented new political environment – one that is highly favorable to tax-cutters’ core goals. … Republicans reasonably predict that the pressure to extend the tax cuts will be intense, not least because well-off folks who receive the big tax provisions that take effect just before the sunsets kick in will be unusually well poised to make their voices heard. They also expect, no doubt, that the need to protect these provisions will provide a powerful motivation for the wealthy to bankroll Republican reelection effects in the future.

Here, the putative mechanism of policy change was _not_ drift (there is some status quo bias but it is not caused by institutional lock in and veto points). Indeed, it was precisely because of the likelihood that the legislation would be blocked by a Senate filibuster that the Republicans had to pass the bill through reconciliation and jiggery-pokery with the numbers. There is a current debate about the tax cuts’ expiration – but this doesn’t look to me to be a “highly favorable environment” for their retention – and not only because of the economic crisis. There is a substantial minority of Republicans and conservative Democrats who can try to block major efforts to increase taxes on the rich, but (pending the elections), it is probably not be enough to pass new legislation to re-enact the taxes. While we still haven’t seen whether the tax cuts will or will not be renewed, it seems to me plausible that Republicans were too smart for their own good. They might have been smarter to settle for more limited cuts without a sunset clause (putting the future burden of change on those who wanted to repeal the cuts, rather than those who wanted to renew them).

The US Welfare State in Comparison

by Henry Farrell on June 8, 2010

Price Fishback’s paper suggesting that the US welfare state is bigger than Sweden’s and Denmark’s got a “lot”: “of”: “attention”: a few weeks back on the right side of the blogosphere. Since I outsource most of my thinking on statistical comparisons of the welfare state to Lane Kenworthy, I’ve been waiting for him to assess the argument. He “finally has”:

bq. This looks like good news for the poor in the United States. Is it? Unfortunately, no. These adjustments change the story with respect to the aggregate quantity of resources spent on social protection in the three countries, but they have limited bearing on redistribution and on the living standards of the poor. … Begin with tax breaks. … . In the United States these disproportionately go to the affluent and the middle class. … Public transfer programs in Denmark and Sweden tend to be “universal” in design … To make them more affordable, the government claws back some of the benefit by taxing it as though it were regular income. All countries do this, including the United States, but the Nordic countries do it more extensively. So how well-off are the poor in the United States, with its “hidden welfare state,” compared to social-democratic Denmark and Sweden? One measure is average posttransfer-posttax (“disposable”) income among households in the bottom decile of the income distribution. Here are my calculations using the best available comparative data, from the Luxembourg Income Study (LIS). (The numbers are adjusted for household size. They refer to a household with a single adult. For a family of four, multiply by two.)

bq. Government services — medical care, child care, housing, transportation, and so on — reduce material hardship directly. They also free up income to be spent on other needs. The comparative data, though by no means perfect, are consistent with the hypothesis that public services help the poor more in the Nordic countries than in the United States.

bq. Helping the poor is not, of course, the only thing we want from social spending. But it surely is one thing.

Gender Equality

by Harry on December 15, 2009

During Ingrid’s visit to Madison she was surprised to find that Gender Equality: Transforming Family Divisions of Labor (UK) has already been published, mainly because she expected me to organise a book event on it in a timely fashion, or at least announce it on CT. Mea Culpa. The book came out of the conference I wrote about here. Gornick and Meyers previously published Families That Work, a comprehensive discussion of family policy in various European countries with a view to recommending a mix of subsidies, leaves, and regulations for the United States; after a visit to present the work in Madison, Erik Wright pressed them to develop a more general set of recommendations for moving toward a dual carer-dual breadwinner system, which is the lead essay in the current book. The commentaries all take off from the lead essay, with varying degrees of criticism: commentators include Nancy Folbre, Johanna Brenner, Heidi Hartmann, Rosemary Crompton, Ann Orloff, Erik Wright and me, and not one, but two, former CT-guest bloggers, Kimberly Morgan and Lane Kenworthy. Oddly, given that her essay is more critical of the kinds of policies that I’d like to see (some variant of what Gornick and Meyers recommend) than any of the others, my own favorite commentary is Barbara Bergmann’s. As will be no surprise to anyone who knows her work, Bergmann argues against a system of leaves, especially paid leaves, on the grounds that, since men will not take the leaves, increasing the opportunities and incentives for women to take the leaves will, in fact, entrench rather than overturn the gendered division of labor. I’m not persuaded, and it’s not because I am more optimistic about men taking on more child-caring (though I am, but that’s because Bergmann is pessimistic in the extreme) but more because I don’t see childcare becoming a well-paid career, or a significantly male one, in the foreseeable future. But what I liked about her commentary was the sensitiveness to context — the way that she makes clear that any commentary on proposals like this cannot be “for” or “against” but must take into account the likely effects which will vary depending on the historical circumstances of the society being considered.

Anyway, this post is the announcement Ingrid had been expecting, and I’ll tardily try to put together an event about the book before too long.

The Visual Display of Quantitative Information

by Henry Farrell on March 10, 2008

“Lane Kenworthy”: shows how it’s done.