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October 13, 2004


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et alia

As far as I can tell, "sustainability" is a buzzword these days. It's a good thing (tm), even if no one's quite sure what it means.

I don't think it's controversial that there is growing income inequity in the US today. Deploring it on moral grounds is one thing, but then you run up against people who'll want to put the fact/value distinction in your path, and claim it's a fact that markets are the best creators and allocators of wealth; whatever inequity there is will only be worse if there is interference.

But is it really so that markets are the best creators and allocators of wealth? More to the point, is growing inequality good for the economy—and not just ours, but the world's economy? Right now, the US is the demand reservoir for the world. Despite sagging income levels, we seem to have maintained our consumption by massive borrowing against home equity. If the broad majority of people in the US were not able to continue to consume, what then? Doesn't this indicate that income inequality is bad for the economy—that it is unsustainable?

I realize that as someone who must move in philanthropic circles, this amounts on its face to asking your donors to give for programs and policies that seem to fly in the face of their self-interest. But a hobbled world economy is not in their best interests. Perhaps the prudent and sharp among them can be made to see such giving as beneficial long term investments.


Trade is the thing, not markets. The best allocator and creator of wealth is fair trade in well policed market. Deregulation is a cynical misnomer. What it is is regulation favoring the highest bidder.


And what is so often for sale in markets seems to be talent, not only corporate, but among nonprofit officials and public servants. The idea of the public interest, of a life of service to something larger than your self or social niche seems to be vanishing like the ideal of professionalism in law, medicine, and journalism.

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