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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

First it was Nancy in her own words. Now how about Robert in his own words? Time to choose your side.

Here is an excerpt from my second book in an interview with Robert Lucas. Here I ask about the distribution of income and poverty. Nancy said she wanted all incomes equalized. Here is what Lucas says. He even mentions immigration and trade. You choose.

Randall Parker: I asked all the economists of the interwar generation this because it is a question I am deeply interested in and now I want to ask you. Can poverty and the distribution of income be correctly viewed as separate?

Robert Lucas: Well if you mean by poverty an absolute, the living standard has just grown enormously in the United States. Certainly in the post-war period it has been a rather smooth 2 percent per year growth in average living standards. So when people say that poverty isn’t changing, to say that you have got to keep raising the standard of what you mean to be out of poverty over time. Certainly if you define poverty as anyone would have, say, in 1948, there are damn few people left in that situation now in 2005. We care about it but I think the focus on distribution tends to distort the analysis of economic policy. It leads us to think the only way you make me better is by making you worse off, that there’s some kind of a zero-sum aspect to it. All (Lucas raises his voice and stretches out the word all) the lessons of economics since the industrial revolution have run against this idea of a zero-sum game. People are worried about China and India growing now. We’ve gained enormously during the periods where we have been most open, with immigrants coming from abroad and we are buying from abroad. We have always tried somehow to get low-income people around the world, let them get rich selling to us. Whether they come over here and work in plants like the Poles, the Italians and the Jews did 100 years ago or we go abroad and buy from people. It doesn’t make a hell of a lot of difference. The thing is Americans gained too, we all gained enormously during those periods. The fastest periods of growth for the United States have been periods of rapid immigration and openness to trade.

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