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The Year Ahead 2021

American Capitalism’s Poor Prognosis

The COVID-19 pandemic has both exposed and accelerated long-term trends that will render the US economy system even more unequal and dysfunctional than it already was. Worse, the Democrats' failure to secure a decisive victory in Congress has dimmed the prospects for badly needed reforms.

PRINCETON – Those who advocate taxing the rich to give to the poor often must endure wearied explanations of why such redistribution is a pointless policy. While the rich are indeed rich, there are supposedly too few of them to tax on a scale that would help the poor.

Rarely does one hear about the opposite process – the upward redistribution whereby a few cents taken from everyone make a few individuals very rich indeed. Yet that is precisely what monopolists and rent seekers do, by overcharging consumers, underpaying taxes, and funding politicians who will protect the process of extraction from the many to benefit the few. Worse, the 2020 US election all but ensures that this “trickle-up” dynamic will continue.

The stock market’s buoyancy during the COVID-19 pandemic has been the subject of much wonder. Obviously, with interest rates near zero, investors have few other places to find a positive return; and it is perfectly understandable that the market would celebrate good news like Pfizer’s announcement that its vaccine candidate may be more than 90% effective.

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