Thursday, January 22, 2015

How to Decrease Inequality

The President's proposal to raise the capital gains tax rate to 28% is a good first step on the road to reversing some inequality-favoring policies. Cutting capital gains was meant to increase business investment, but what it's done instead is to provide convenient tax shelter for extremely wealthy individuals and an incentive to take one's compensation in the form of dividends. Here's a good summary of Danny Yagan's paper on the 2003 cap gains tax cut, Paul Krugman on the same. We should not, as a function of government, care how you make your money, so ideally, you would pay one set of progressive rates on the whole of your income, whether you got it as an hourly or annual wage, interest, dividend, or what have you.

Second, there needs to be an ongoing focus on deconcentrating industries generally and inhibitng large scale mergers & acquisitions among market leaders in particular. Why? Because these mergers have a hollowing out effect on the industry so that only very large scale companies remain. They also inhibit competition and internal investment, making inorganic growth more attractive. Access to public capital markets should be fostered instead, making public offerings simpler and less costly.

Third, intellectual property reform needs to move in the direction of weaker IP protection, with tighter restrictions on the length, breadth, and permissible categories of protection. Business process patents should be eliminated entirely, and safe harbor exceptions should be broad and automatically available. There exists a point at which additional protection actually decreases IP value, and I think it's clear we're well past that point. Some good signs are showing up in the new EU draft proposal in this area, but the current round of proposed trade agreements, starting with TPP, are unfortunately steps in the wrong direction.

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