(published by the Financial Times on 24.06.2021)
The „pre-distributionists“ (Rana Foroohar: People‘s capital is an idea whose time has come, FT 21.6.21) are thinking in the right direction, but far too timidly. They, and Rana, are right to state that taxing the rich by itself will not really right the maldistribution of income and wealth. Any conceivable tax rate will only make a tiny dent in their unequal distribution, unless wealth is expropriated by the state and incomes are strictly regulated. Then you have what we could call state socialism.
But the pre-distributionists‘ proposal for citizens‘ participation in the proceeds from capital markets, financed either by a share of excess taxes (how many times, how many states will have surplus taxes?), by contributions from philanthropists or by a small government share in start-ups (why does Foroohar quote the value of all California publicly traded companies as base for these shareholdings, instead of the much, much smaller value of start-ups?) is based on maintaining the absurd growth rates of stocks relative to GDP – t h e culprit of the wealth gap – to let some crumbs fall on the plates of citizens. Instead of reigning in the absurdity of financial markets we should strengthen them, and give them even more „democratic legitimacy“ by letting citizens participate?
Why not extend Biden‘s plans for free tertiary education to everybody, why not attempt to install a universal health and a pension system which includes also gig workers, self-employed and precarious workers? In Europe socially-minded Christian (i.e. conservative) parties, also Social Democrats, have for a long time promoted „citizen capitalism“, i.e. having workers own shares in the companies in which they work. This idea would also imply – as workers‘ participation („co-determination“) does in Germany and Austria – that workers have representation at the company‘s board, thus enabling them to enhance stakeholder capitalism. Scandinavian countries have dabbled with more extensive ideas, most famously the Norwegian Wealth Fund which owns shares in nearly all listed companies and makes its influence felt by putting pressure on climate-related activities of its portfolio. Part of the fund‘s proceeds are used for social purposes.
It is true: re-distribution through the tax system does not achieve a fair distribution of wealth and incomes. But the proposed pre-distribution scheme will not succeed either, because it would „feed the beast“, i.e. financial markets, which causes this extreme maldistribution. We have to go further and attack not the symptoms, but the root cause.
Postscript: the recently published Global Wesath Report by Credit Suisse confirms the above analysis. Accordingly, lst year the number of Dollar millionaires grew by more than 5 million to a total of 56.1 million. Total net wealth in 2020 increased by 28.7 trillion $ to 418.3 trillion $ (total world GDP in 2020 amounted to 84.5 trillion $, 5% down from the previous year). The report states unequivocally, that the reason for the increse in wealth is the increase in the prices of financial assets, fuelled by the activities of the Central Banks. Since finanical assets are mainly held by richer households, income and wealth inequality, as measures by the Gini Index, has increased again.