Must-Read: It is only fair to note that Eduardo Porter is almost-singlehandedly raising the standard of New York Times news analysis.
The only problem I see is the reflexive "opinions of shape of earth differ" jerk of the "debate... about poverty and inequality" in "Washington" "bogged down... pointless, often surreal". Claims that we are spending a huge amount of money on our poor and that the government needs to shrink are surreal. But they are not pointless. Claims that we would all benefit in the long run from spending more money on the poor and on a government that was bigger if those could be done the right way are neither pointless nor surreal.
But the rest is gold.
His latest of an increasingly long streak of excellent takes:
...it was about 25 percent of our gross national product in 1970. It is still about 25 percent of our G.D.P. today. And the share of our wealth spent on the poor, apart from money devoted to the rising cost of health care, has not changed very much, either.... In... ‘Inequality, What Can Be Done?’... Anthony B. Atkinson of Oxford puts forth a set of proposals... a higher minimum wage... a guarantee of government employment up to 35 hours a week... strengthening unions and creating a ‘social and economic council’ where representatives of labor and civil society could have a say in policy, offering a counterweight to corporate power... marginal income tax rates could be pushed higher... a universal capital endowment for every adult....
Many of these ideas may strike classic American economists as outdated lefty proposals that already failed in the 1970s. But they look increasingly relevant in what many are calling the Second Gilded Age. ‘One of the key messages, given the kind of redistribution we need, is that we can’t achieve it simply through taxes and transfers,’ Professor Atkinson told me. ‘We are stuck in a narrow set of ideas. The most important thing is to broaden the agenda.’