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文章標題 Book : The Great Stagnation
The Government of Low-Hanging Fruit
Left, Right, and Upside Down
Politics is very difficult in an America without much low-hanging fruit. Low-hanging fruit means there are lots of material goodies to hand out and lots of fairly easy ways to make people happier, namely by giving them more stuff. That’s not the case now, as we are struggling ﬁscally simply to make good on previous promises to Medicare and Social Security recipients, as well as bondholders. Many of us have a hopeful vision of American politics in which we have a sane, honest middle, which urges us to “stay the course” with solid marginal improvements along the way. We get real income growth, widely distributed, of about 2 to 3 percent a year. Maybe that sounds good to you, but if you’ve read this far, you know I think it is currently impossible. We don’t have the low-hanging fruit to make such a scenario real. Some commentators have expressed a nostalgia for aspects of the economic world of the 1950s, as Paul Krugman suggested in his book The Conscience of a Liberal. I can understand the sentiment, since the 1950s brought a lot of growth, based on a lot of low-hanging fruit. Yet Krugman wants to mimic some very particular features of the 1950s: high marginal tax rates, high rates of unionization, and a relatively egalitarian distribution of income and wealth. Those are all possible when the low-hanging fruit is there to be plucked, but we can’t just wave the policy wand and re-create the crucial features of that earlier world –- namely rapid economic growth—by passing laws. Krugman is pushing policies that require high real income growth, precisely when real income growth is relatively low. He is putting the cart before the horse and asking for some burdensome policies precisely when they would be toughest to bear. For the last forty years, most Americans have been expecting more than their government is capable of delivering. That mistake is at the root of why our government is functioning poorly. Instead of admitting its limitations, or trying to manage our expectations, government starts lying to us about what is possible.
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