Ezra Klein is an award winning American blogger, journalist and columnist. He has worked for The Washington Post, MSNBC, Bloomberg News and the American Prospect. In 2010 he was named Blogger of The Year by The Week. In 2011 he was named one of the 50 most powerful people in Washington by GQ. Klein is the editor-in-chief of the new media venture Vox which went live today.
TKO: If you were king for a day, what are the first three economic policies you would enact – whether or not they directly addressed economic inequality – and why?
EK: It would begin with cap-and-trade. Global warming is a severe threat and we’re nowhere near doing enough to address it. Then I’d do universal pre-k. The benefits there are likely harder to achieve than many hope, but if we can build out quality programs, the research is unequivocal that the upside is huge. Finally I think a lot could be done on the zoning side to make it cheaper for working class folks to live in economically desirable places.
TKO: Your new venture, Vox, is advertised as an outlet that will be dedicated to explaining the news, as opposed to existing media that reports or comments on it. What do you think are the two or three most important things one needs to understand when consuming news about economic inequality?
EK: First, that pre-tax inequality is as high in some European nations as it is here — but post-tax inequality is far lower. That suggests the government can do quite a bit. Second, that median wage stagnation is huge problem that may or may not be the same as the run-up in income for the top 1%. Third, that wealth inequality is far more lopsided — and far more dangerous — than income inequality.
TKO: Jumping off of that, what are two or three misconceptions or distractions you frequently come across when discussing economic inequality? Basically, what do people often get wrong and what do people often bring up that is more or less irrelevant to the topic?
EK: On the right, the entire issue is too often dismissed, or it’s waved away while people talk vaguely about “social mobility,’ as if the two aren’t related. On the left, I think inequality has begun taking too much attention away from the jobs crisis. My position in this debate is that full employment is the right outcome to pursue.
TKO: Last December, you wrote a piece pushing back against the notion that economic inequality is “the defining challenge of our time,” as President Obama asserted in his State of the Union address. To what extent should we aim to directly reduce inequality as opposed to indirectly reducing it via other forms of economic progress (full employment, productivity increases, e.g.)?
EK: If we could get to full employment we would be reducing income inequality pretty directly.
TKO: To that point, to what extent can/should the government be involved in reducing inequality?
EK: The government shapes the economy in all kinds of ways. Some of them, like taxes and spending, are obvious. Others, like the patent system and zoning, are less obvious. The idea that the government can ever not be involved in this is a fallacy that’s often promoted by people who simply prefer the government’s current kinds of involvement to the possible alternatives.
TKO: The December piece mentioned above, along with a follow-up you wrote shortly after, suggested that there is “political bias” favoring concern for economic inequality over other, perhaps more complicated issues. Can you expand on that?
EK: I think Washington has largely given up on doing anything about the jobs crisis and so people are arguing about long-run theories of the American economy.
TKO: You’ve also written about the difference between income inequality and wealth inequality, and argued that wealth inequality is perhaps an even bigger concern than income inequality. Are there any policies aimed at reducing wealth inequality in particular that you think would be especially effective?
EK: Well, if your sole goal is reducing wealth inequality you can just tax wealth.