Noah Smith on Redistribution
By David Henderson
If you read blogs much, which, presumably, you do, you know two things: (1) bloggers are often rude to each other, and (2) bloggers often talk past each other or refuse to answer each other’s questions. That’s why I think it’s worthwhile to give Noah Smith his due. We were both polite and I asked him a question to which he gave a categorical answer.
First, the background. Noah had written a post advocating that we show more respect to people in low-pay and low-status jobs. I wrote a post in which I concurred and pointed out that one of the implications that Noah should be aware of is that if people are more respected in such jobs, their supply curve to such jobs will shift to the right and their pay will fall. (I should have also pointed out what co-blogger Bryan pointed out, namely, that Noah should have argued for an increase in respect, not a redistribution of respect.)
I wondered what Noah’s response was and so I tweeted him. Here’s our back and forth.
David: Hey, Noah, good piece on respect. Here are my thoughts [with a link to my post.]
Noah: I think this [fall in pay] might happen higher up the income scale, but at low incomes, the effect will likely be very small.
He didn’t say why he thought it would be very small but there’s only so much you can do on Twitter. I was going to reply that if the increase in respect he’s calling for is really valued by the people he wants it for, then he could not be sure that the effect is small, but then Noah made what I saw as a more important statement.
Noah: I want to redistribute enough wealth to save people from deprivation, but I don’t care about wealth inequality per se.
David: Thanks for clarifying. In that case, it makes no sense for you to talk about wealth inequality, right? Just deprivation.
Noah: Right. But remedying that still requires some wealth redistribution.
David: It might. But if you could be convinced that that could be done without wealth redistribution, you would oppose redistribution?