David Brooks makes some good points about inequality in today's New York Times, knocking down some oversimplistic populist notions. In response, Jared Bernstein makes some better points, noting that a slightly more sophisticated view vindicates all the key elements of the populist position. The key Brooksian rhetorical gambit is to do things like, "people blame A, but when you look at it, A is only responsible for 10-15 percent of the phenomenon, so..." but when you put together three or four things that are reach responsible for non-trivial shares of rising inequality, together you have a very large policy-related phenomenon.
What's more, it's always worth emphasizing that the conventional view of what constitutes "policy choices" gets a little narrow. In his excellent booklet The Conservative Nanny State Dean Baker highlights a bunch of almost-never-discussed policy choices that, were we to change our policies, would have a substantial egalitarian impact. The "skill premium," for example, could be easily diminished by importing more skilled professionals from abroad. Anyways, read Bernstein, read Baker.
UPDATE: Also read this from Baker specifically on the Brooks column.
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