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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press Does the Effort to Prevent Global Warming Distract Us From Helping the Poor?

Does the Effort to Prevent Global Warming Distract Us From Helping the Poor?

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Sunday, 09 March 2014 06:40

There doesn't seem any obvious reason that preventing the destruction of the planet would obstruct efforts to help the poor, but I wonder if Harvard economist Sendhill Mullainathan has such fears. He writes today in the NYT that he worries that a focus on the extreme wealth and income of the one percent is blocking efforts to aid the bottom 20 percent. If that is the case, then presumably focusing attention on global warming would raise even greater fears.

Of course it's harder to see the concern for the focus on the one percent since many of the measures that would reduce the income of the one percent would directly benefit the bottom 20 percent. For example reducing the protections that make it difficult for foreign doctors from entering the country would directly lower the price of health care for the bottom 20 percent, effectively raising their income. The same would be true of ending patent protection for prescription drugs and adopting a more efficient mechanism for financing future research. With drugs costs around 10 percent of their current price, many of the poor would be able to afford them without government assistance. Applying regulation to near monopolies like cable and Internet providers would also benefit the poor while reducing the income of the one percent.

There are areas where ending special treatment for the one percent may provide less direct benefits for the poor, such as making Internet retailers like Jeff Bezos collect sales tax like everyone else or taxing the financial sector like other sectors, but it's hard to understand Mr. Mullainathan's concern that this distracts from helping the poor. By this logic, dealing with the situation in the Crimea or the debate over legalizing marijuana also distract from helping the poor. There doesn't seem any obvious reason that we can't both look to help the poor and try to alter the rules that have made the one percent ridiculously rich.

Comments (6)Add Comment
Ode to the Poor
written by Last Mover, March 09, 2014 7:59

The penchant for economic suicide manifests in many ways as a representation of "freedom".

For example the Koch Bros spend billions on advancing global warming in the name of "freedom".

The Tea Party is an example of a party with an economic death wish in pursuit of "freedom" by way of support from the Koch Bros.

It's the ultimate rationalization of a death panel wish: Global warming will happen regardless of any attempt to stop it, so save your money and enjoy the ride on the last expansionary bubble left on earth, the CO2 Bubble.

There is no better way to help the poor. Since they have the least to look forward to anyway, they will benefit the most compared those better off.

All aboard America. It's the last train leaving the station for the growing poor population, a coal fired steam engine relic belching smoke every mile of the way as it carries the poor onward and upwards to their final destiny.

At least they were happy till the end since they could afford the train ticket.
...
written by bobs, March 09, 2014 10:02
It's just that the one percent needs constant reassurance that we love them. Very insecure type.
...........
written by djb, March 09, 2014 11:25
"Jealousy and envy "

this is the essence of this guys article

he thinks that the only problem is the poor are giving into these primitive emotions

sounds just like Ayn Rand

this guy spent all those years studying just so he could enrich himself by whoring for the rich

too bad
...
written by Alex Bollinger, March 09, 2014 12:43
In addition to the policies that Baker mentions, there's the very simple solution to inequality that would directly help the poor: tax the wealthy and give poor people money/stuff. Ta-da. The problems of inequality and poverty are both alleviated.
The poor need Energy - how many greens want to see them industrialize?
written by Neopacific, March 09, 2014 3:54
I think the biggest issue is Energy and Greens that want to limit emissions better provide a mechanism for developing world to industrialize or even make clean energy cheaper for the poor in the post industrial world. See Germany for the way greens punish rhe poor with expensive energy.
Reducing protections against foreign doctors
written by Nick Johnson, March 10, 2014 2:47
Dean,

I've seen in you say in several posts that opening the borders to foreign doctors would do all kinds of great things. You've said it'll create hundreds of thousands of jobs, effectively raise wages, reduce healthcare spending, etc.

Could you please quantify some of these things? That is, by your estimates, just how many jobs would it create? How much would it effectively raise wages? How much would it reduce healthcare costs? How much will it increase economic growth? I have a friend who insists it'll have negligible effects on all these things. Thus, he argues, it's a waste of time to address it.

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About Beat the Press

Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is the author of several books, his latest being The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive. Read more about Dean.

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