Sikkerhed, ulighed og vækst

Tilbage igen efter nogle ugers sløjhed som kulminerede i en virulent betændelse og mit første hospitalsophold i 48 år får jeg lyst til at henvise til en meget interessant, men derfor ikke nødvendigvis 100 pct. sand, analyse af hvad forfatteren selv kalder "det største samfundspolitiske emne i vor tid".  Forfatteren er politologen Jacob Hacker fra Yale, som i mange år har leveret interessante analyser af samfundsudviklingen.  Nu har han i The Great Risk Shift hævdet at det største samfundspolitiske problem idag er den usikkerhed, som hussstande oplever; at udsving i indkomst er større end før, og at folk med ansvar er mindre risikovillige og mere tryghedsefterspørgende end en forenklet liberalistisk ideologi hævder.

Her kan læses (hvis den ikke allerede er dukket op) Hackers resume af sit argument.

Mine spørgsmål til det er dels om den situation, Hacker beskriver, er relevant for andre samfund end det amerikanske.  Svar ja, i nogen grad.  Og dels at vi liberale må tage Hackers analyse alvorligt.  Jeg ser nemlig en risiko for at den danske forherligelse af den angivelige tryghed, som velfærdssamfundet leverer, og som bl.a. i arbejdsmarkedssammenhæng kaldes "flexicurity-modellen", passer fint med en overfladisk læsning af Hacker, altså at man vil kunne sige, at hvis blot USA eksempelvis gjorde mere som Danmark, ville denne middelklasse-utryghed forsvinde.

Problemet er, at man kan give Hacker ret i sin konklusion om, at middelklassen faktisk efterspørger tryghed, og at der ikke sidder titusinder af uerkendte iværksættere derude, som er rede til at belåne hus og hjem for at kaste sig ud i eventyr, uden dermed at købe propagandaen, som nu også Fogh R. støtter, om, at den danske model er enestående velegnet til at fjerne utryghed og give folk psykisk energi til at møde globaliseringen.

For sagen er jo, at velfærdssamfundet i dets danske indretning ikke reelt giver tryghed, trods talen om det modsatte.  Føler I jer trygge?  Jeg gør ikke.  Men jeg kan samtidig sagtens følge Hackers analyse og tvivler ikke på, at hans dataserier er forfalskede eller upålidelige.

Hacker skriver i en blogdebat om sin bog flg.

The premise of The Great Risk Shift is that risk — more precisely, the growing economic insecurity faced by middle-class Americans — is the defining domestic issue of our time, one that increasingly lies at the heart of our nation's polarized politics. It provides a powerful opportunity for Democrats to reclaim the political high ground as bold protectors of middle-class interests.

The big question is whether Democrats will seize the opportunity. President Bush gambled that Americans increasingly imbued with the ethos of self-reliance would embrace private Social Security accounts — and lost. He's since placed individualized and market-based Health Savings Accounts at the center of his domestic agenda. Democrats know they're against the Republican agenda. Yet they don't really know what they're for. Nor have they developed their own vision of the role of government. Instead, they're mostly clinging to the programs of the past. Their rhetoric has often suggested, moreover, that they want to protect only those who've fallen on hard times, not those who are striving to get ahead. They've appealed to our hearts, not our heads — and many middle-class Americans aren't on board.

The cornerstone of a powerful alternative vision is the simple idea that security is not at odds with helping people get ahead in a market economy; it is the key to doing so. Just as corporations enjoy limited liability and bankruptcy protection to encourage entrepreneurs to take risk, families need basic financial security to be encouraged to invest in good education, better jobs, strong parenting, and valuable assets like homes and retirement accounts—in short, in all the things that make upward mobility possible. Indeed, there's a wealth of evidence that opportunity and security go hand in hand, that people with a basic safety net feel more confident and capable in stepping out on the shaky tightrope that our economy has increasingly become.

Understanding this argument requires grasping how much our economy has changed. We all know instinctively that health insurance, pensions, jobs, and family finances have become less secure. But often we look at these issues in isolation, failing to see the big picture: a massive transfer of economic risk from the broad structures of insurance, both corporate and governmental, onto the fragile balance sheets of American families.

Using a unique dataset, I have discovered that the up-and-down swings of working-age Americans' family incomes are now two to three times more violent than they were in the early 1970s. This "volatility" of income has risen far faster than inequality, and it means that Americans are plunging down the economic ladder much more often than in the past. In the early 1970s, the chance that a person with average demographic characteristics would experience a 50 percent or greater drop in income was around one in fourteen. In 2002, it was more than one in seven.

Of course, people are also rising up the economic ladder, so isn't it a wash? And can't people protect themselves against economic losses solely on their own? The answer to both questions is (mostly) no, and for a simple reason: people don't think like the homo economicus of neoclassical economics. We have serious psychological blinders when it comes to estimating risk and acting on what we know. Most of all, we have a deeply embedded abhorrence of insecurity, based on what behavioral economists call "loss aversion." Loss aversion means that we dislike losing things we have far more than we like gaining things we don't. Ask people how much of a risk of loss they'd be willing to take to get a chance to double their current income and the answer, according to careful studies, is not much. Indeed, a recent poll found that even the most opportunity-loving Americans prefer, by a two-to-one margin, the security of having their current income protected to the chance to make more money.

But such protection is elusive — for everyone. My research shows that insecurity is now reaching even people who made all the right choices: who gained a good education and married before having kids. People with high levels of education now experience as much income volatility as people who dropped out of high school did in the 1970s. The long-term unemployed are disproportionately educated and professional. And there's almost as much inequality among people with good educations as between those with a good education and those without it, suggesting that while the benefits of education have increased, they've also become harder to count on.

Some might say that it's only natural that people who make bold choices will face more risk — that's what makes an entrepreneurial economy work. In fact, when you look at the evidence, there's almost no relationship between people's own willingness to tolerate risk and their income volatility, which suggests much more than choice is at work. Indeed, married couples with kids — a naturally cautious lot — are now the family type most likely to go bankrupt. Almost everyone — educated or unskilled, prudent or foolish — is riding the economic roller coaster created by the transformation of work, family, and national policy.

Which is why the risk shift is such a resonant issue for the Democrats. Fairly o
r not, the party has been
portrayed as enthralled with the have-nots and dismissive of the haves, bent on redistribution and taxes and liberal do-good projects. But when it comes to risk, nearly all of us are have-nots. The persistently poor exist, to be sure, but they're a smaller group than often assumed. Most of us experience economic hardship for a short time due to specific risks. Indeed, roughly half of Americans will spend at least a year in poverty between the ages of 25 and 75, and the chance of falling into poverty has been rising dramatically in every age group.

So what should Democrats do? They need to recognize that the shift of risk onto workers and their families is the dominant trend of the day, and a source of pervasive anxiety. And they need to recast their economic message to make it not just about inequality or hardship, but about security and opportunity — which are inextricably linked. Good skills and stable families are crucial. But the risks facing those who invest in their skills and families are inexorably rising. Providing basic protection against the most severe of these risks wouldn't just help those who falter; it would also encourage Americans to invest in their futures.

The solutions aren't simple or easy, and some of them defy simple ideological characterization: new forms of insurance, new markets to allow ordinary Americans to hedge against risk, and new ways of building broadly distributed wealth and ensuring low-cost credit when necessary. But the path for the Democratic Party is clear. If they want to regain the allegiance of middle-class Americans who reluctantly embrace the low-tax, self-reliance mantra of the GOP, they need a resonant alternative: providing security to expand opportunity in the risky new world of work and family.

Og han konkluderer:

there are some for whom insecurity is a thing of the past — and, unfortunately, these insulated denizens of our economy's highest ranks have been running our country and driving our politics.

I am tempted to simply say thanks, and resolve to treat these issues in more depth down the road. (I'm actually working on a book about inequality and American politics right now with my friend and frequent coauthor, Paul Pierson — which we're tentatively calling Winner-Take-All Politics.) And yet I think that neither Matt nor Ezra do justice to the ways in which The Great Risk Shift demonstrates that Americans' rising economic insecurity is tied up precisely with the trends they describe and deplore. Why are Americans facing increased economic instability, rising health costs and growing gaps in insurance, the demise of guaranteed pension plans, increased job insecurity, and skyrocketing bankruptcy and consumer debt? Not because there are no solutions out there to these problems, as Matt and Ezra both know well. But because America's corporate and political leaders have given up on the idea that economic security is a basic foundation of opportunity, and indeed have actively tried to shift more risks onto workers and their families — through, for example, defined-contribution pension plans (extravagantly subsidized through the tax code) and Health Savings Accounts and the proposed privatization of Medicare and Social Security. This, as Ezra suggests, is as much a political story as an economic one, and it's the story I tell in my book.

It's also the story of American inequality over the past generation. What's distinctive about the dramatic increase in inequality in the United States is that it largely hasn't happened because of a growth in America's perennial poverty problem (though deep poverty — defined as living below 50 percent of the federal poverty line — has grown.) Rather, it is driven by the enormous gains at the top — gains that have dwarfed the rise experienced even by the educated upper middle class. Indeed, you have to go all the way up to the 90th income percentile, according to a recent analysis, to reach the income strata that has received earnings gains over the last thirty-five years commensurate with the general growth of productivity in the economy. And even these fortunate folks at the 90th percentile have seen their income rise only modestly compared with those at the very top.

The thesis of The Great Risk Shift flows directly from this striking pattern of inequality. It is that over the last generation, problems once confined to the working poor — lack of health insurance and access to guaranteed pensions, job insecurity and staggering personal debt, bankruptcy and home foreclosure — have crept up the income ladder to become an increasingly normal part of middle-class life. Personal bankruptcies are more than five times as common as they were a quarter-century ago. Mortgage foreclosures are up 400 percent since the early 1970s. Working-age adults with modest annual incomes ($20,000-$40,000) are nearly half again as likely to be medically uninsured than they were in 2000, with a staggering 41 percent going without coverage for all or part of last year. It is families in the middle who frequently fall between public and private protections in our jerry-rigged structure of economic benefits. And upper-middle-class families are increasingly facing the same sorts of insecurities, too — their skills more fragile and their knowledge jobs more insecure than many of them ever expected.

I see the problem this way not because it's a politically prudent frame, but because it's the truth. But I do think that insecurity is more likely than inequality to spur Americans and their leaders to action. Larry Bartels at Princeton and others have shown that Americans are aware of rising inequality and are concerned about it, but that they don't connect it to their everyday life. (Paul and I have argued that Larry overstates public support for top-heavy tax cuts, but his broader argument strikes me as absolutely correct.) Americans, moreover, are highly aspirational — they believe in upward mobility and think they will experience it, even as they express broader economic views that are highly populist and increasingly pessimistic.

This faith in opportunity can undercut concerns about inequality, but it shouldn't undermine concerns about economic security — not just because security and opportunity go hand in hand in practice, but also because they go hand in hand in most people's minds. Ever since Loyd Free and Hadley Cantril argued in the late 1960s that Americans are "philosophical conservatives" and "operational liberals" (a point updated by the political scientists John Zaller and Stanley Feldman), it's been clear that Americans believe simultaneously that people should make it on their own and that they deserve basic protections, so long as those protections are seen as available to people "like them."

Mark, Ezra, and Matt are absolutely right, however, that this message needs to have a populist tone, not just a technocratic one. Some Americans are ridiculously secure — they get golden parachutes and second and third chances, while most Americans don't. Corporations get limited liability. American families don't. Why didn't the 2003 prescription drug bill provide a strong foundation of security for elderly Americans drowning in prescription drug bills? Because it was a giveaway to drug companies and the insurance industry, and an expression of Repub

lican animus toward broad-based insurance, exemplified by the bill's insistence on private drug plans and Health Savings Accounts — costly choices that help account for the fact that "donut hole" has transformed from a tasty morsel into a major concern on the minds of the millions of elderly Americans who spend between $2,000 and $5,000 on prescription drugs (the window of costs in which drug-plan coverage disappears and for which senior citizens are forbidden by the 2003 law from buying supplemental protections).

In the long run, insecurity is bad for the economy, as I argue in the book. But the real problem is that it's bad for most Americans, who've faced increasingly turbulent economic seas on waterlogged dinghies even as the fortunate few sail off to calmer waters on yachts.

Matt, Ezra, and Mark do not say much about my prescriptions, but I think they're ideas that would unite us: reversing our top-down savings incentives, improving unemployment insurance and creating wage insurance, ensuring affordable health care for all, helping families balance work and child care, and thinking outside the box about how to provide new protections against catastrophic risks. It's no secret that all these programs provide disproportionate benefits to Americans at the bottom of the economic ladder, and unlike many programs that explicitly do this, they don't have huge gaps through which millions of Americans fall. We've expanded public health protections to every poor kid in America — a great success story, in many ways, and proof that the moral concerns that Mark calls on us to articulate still resonate. And yet the share of kids without insurance is basically the same today as it was in the 1970s, because employers continue their steady retreat from the benefit obligations they took on in the past.

Targeting the poor isn't going to deal with the growing gaps in our employment-based benefits, or spur a discussion of how we fix the American social contract, because these really are problems that directly affect the middle class, too. And if we can address the large share of the poor who are only intermittently poor — who fall into poverty for a limited time because of divorce or job loss or financial crises — then I think we will be better positioned to address the smaller but more desperate group who are truly stuck at the bottom. Reagan once said we fought a war on poverty and poverty won. Let's fight a war on insecurity. My firm belief is that poverty will begin to lose.

Do I think political power is the ultimate issue? Yes. But power flows from purpose. We need to think big and be bold, and bring Americans to a larger cause whose tangible effects on their lives is both transparent and transparently positive. We need to reinvigorate a faith in what Michael Tomasky calls the "common good," or what Alexis de Toqueville once evocatively termed "self-interest rightly understood." The goal isn't, at bottom, any more complicated than the simple longing expressed by a middle-class woman who wrote me a few days ago to share her views: "I am tired of working for the economy. I want an economy that works for me."

analysis, to reach the income strata that has received earnings gains over the last thirty-five years commensurate with the general growth of productivity in the economy. And even these fortunate folks at the 90th percentile have seen their income rise only modestly compared with those at the very top.

The thesis of The Great Risk Shift flows directly from this striking pattern of inequality. It is that over the last generation, problems once confined to the working poor — lack of health insurance and access to guaranteed pensions, job insecurity and staggering personal debt, bankruptcy and home foreclosure — have crept up the income ladder to become an increasingly normal part of middle-class life. Personal bankruptcies are more than five times as common as they were a quarter-century ago. Mortgage foreclosures are up 400 percent since the early 1970s. Working-age adults with modest annual incomes ($20,000-$40,000) are nearly half again as likely to be medically uninsured than they were in 2000, with a staggering 41 percent going without coverage for all or part of last year. It is families in the middle who frequently fall between public and private protections in our jerry-rigged structure of economic benefits. And upper-middle-class families are increasingly facing the same sorts of insecurities, too — their skills more fragile and their knowledge jobs more insecure than many of them ever expected.

I see the problem this way not because it's a politically prudent frame, but because it's the truth. But I do think that insecurity is more likely than inequality to spur Americans and their leaders to action. Larry Bartels at Princeton and others have shown that Americans are aware of rising inequality and are concerned about it, but that they don't connect it to their everyday life. (Paul and I have argued that Larry overstates public support for top-heavy tax cuts, but his broader argument strikes me as absolutely correct.) Americans, moreover, are highly aspirational — they believe in upward mobility and think they will experience it, even as they express broader economic views that are highly populist and increasingly pessimistic.

This faith in opportunity can undercut concerns about inequality, but it shouldn't undermine concerns about economic security — not just because security and opportunity go hand in hand in practice, but also because they go hand in hand in most people's minds. Ever since Loyd Free and Hadley Cantril argued in the late 1960s that Americans are "philosophical conservatives" and "operational liberals" (a point updated by the political scientists John Zaller and Stanley Feldman), it's been clear that Americans believe simultaneously that people should make it on their own and that they deserve basic protections, so long as those protections are seen as available to people "like them."

Mark, Ezra, and Matt are absolutely right, however, that this message needs to have a populist tone, not just a technocratic one. Some Americans are ridiculously secure — they get golden parachutes and second and third chances, while most Americans don't. Corporations get limited liability. American families don't. Why didn't the 2003 prescription drug bill provide a strong foundation of security for elderly Americans drowning in prescription drug bills? Because it was a giveaway to drug companies and the insurance industry, and an expression of Republican animus toward broad-based insurance, exemplified by the bill's insistence on private drug plans and Health Savings Accounts — costly choices that help account for the fact that "donut hole" has transformed from a tasty morsel into a major concern on the minds of the millions of elderly Americans who spend between $2,000 and $5,000 on prescription drugs (the window of costs in which drug-plan coverage disappears and for which senior citizens are forbidden by the 2003 law from buying supplemental protections).

In the long run, insecurity is bad for the economy, as I argue in the book. But the real problem is that it's bad for most Americans, who've faced increasingly turbulent economic seas on waterlogged dinghies even as the fortunate few sail off to calmer waters on yachts.

Matt, Ezra, and Mark do not say much

about my prescriptions, but I think they're ideas that would unite us: reversing our top-down savings incentives, improving unemployment insurance and creating wage insurance, ensuring affordable health care for all, helping families balance work and child care, and thinking outside the box about how to provide new protections against catastrophic risks. It's no secret that all these programs provide disproportionate benefits to Americans at the bottom of the economic ladder, and unlike many programs that explicitly do this, they don't have huge gaps through which millions of Americans fall. We've expanded public health protections to every poor kid in America — a great success story, in many ways, and proof that the moral concerns that Mark calls on us to articulate still resonate. And yet the share of kids without insurance is basically the same today as it was in the 1970s, because employers continue their steady retreat from the benefit obligations they took on in the past.

Targeting the poor isn't going to deal with the growing gaps in our employment-based benefits, or spur a discussion of how we fix the American social contract, because these really are problems that directly affect the middle class, too. And if we can address the large share of the poor who are only intermittently poor — who fall into poverty for a limited time because of divorce or job loss or financial crises — then I think we will be better positioned to address the smaller but more desperate group who are truly stuck at the bottom. Reagan once said we fought a war on poverty and poverty won. Let's fight a war on insecurity. My firm belief is that poverty will begin to lose.

Do I think political power is the ultimate issue? Yes. But power flows from purpose. We need to think big and be bold, and bring Americans to a larger cause whose tangible effects on their lives is both transparent and transparently positive. We need to reinvigorate a faith in what Michael Tomasky calls the "common good," or what Alexis de Toqueville once evocatively termed "self-interest rightly understood." The goal isn't, at bottom, any more complicated than the simple longing expressed by a middle-class woman who wrote me a few days ago to share her views: "I am tired of working for the economy. I want an economy that works for me."

Se det er højst interessant og relevant også for Danmark.  Jeg er sikker på at the usual suspects på Information og Politiken snart vil trække Hacker frem og sige der kan I selv se, også kloge amerikanere forstår værdien af tryghed, hvilket bekræfter, at det danske system er overlegent.

Det gælder om at finde en mellemvej.  Svaret til de utrygge amerikanere er ikke dansk flexicurity, for den skaber en anden slags utryghed, som er systemernes uholdbarhed, ineffektivitet og dårlige kvalitet.  Frit valg må kombineres med basal tryghed, og det kan ske på et omkostningsniveau på det halve af det danske, hvilket overlader det til familier og husstande selv at arrangere sig.

2 Kommentarer

  1. Der er vist (stadig) noget galt med formatet, en del af indlægget er i al fald gentaget.Mon ikke også det kunne tænkes, at denne sætning skulle have været formuleret lidt, hrm…, anderledes?”Men jeg kan samtidig sagtens følge Hackers analyse og tvivler ikke på, at hans dataserier er forfalskede eller upålidelige.”Tyler Cowen har tidligere snakket lidt om Hackers analyse (naturligvis ud fra et amerikansk perspektiv):http://www.marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2006/09/the_great_risk_.htmlDet samme har Arnold Kling. Jeg er mere enig med Kling end med Hacker:http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2005/03/income_volatili.htmlStørre volatilitet imødekommes bedst ved hjælp af øget opsparing – skal staten endelig blande sig, så er det dér, der skal gribes ind.

  2. Øv, beklager gentagelsen af noget af teksten. Det kan desværre ikke rettes nu.Og der er naturligvis faldet et “ikke” ud min vurdering af Hacker.Kling er altid fornuftig. Jeg tror imidlertid ikke han modbeviser Hacker, når denne taler om usikkerhed som social-psykisk faktor.

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