Saturday, July 21, 2018

John Lanchester on ten years after 2008

After the fall The early parts are familiar. Towards the end, he talks of the missing wealth:
"The frustrating thing is that the policy implications of this idea are pretty clear. In the developed world, we need policies that reduce the inequality at the top. It is sometimes said these are very difficult policies to devise. I’m not sure that’s true. What we’re really talking about is a degree of redistribution similar to that experienced in the decades after the Second World War, combined with policies that prevent the international rich person’s sport of hiding assets from taxation. This was one of the focuses of Thomas Piketty’s Capital, and with good reason. I mentioned earlier that assets and liabilities always balance – that’s the way they are designed, as accounting equalities. But when we come to global wealth, this isn’t true. Studies of the global balance sheet consistently show more liabilities than assets. The only way that would make sense is if the world were in debt to some external agency, such as Venusians or the Emperor Palpatine. Since it isn’t, a simple question arises: where’s all the fucking money? Piketty’s student Gabriel Zucman wrote a powerful book, The Hidden Wealth of Nations (2015), which supplies the answer: it’s hidden by rich people in tax havens. According to calculations that Zucman himself says are conservative, the missing money amounts to $8.7 trillion, a significant fraction of all planetary wealth. It is as if, when it comes to the question of paying their taxes, the rich have seceded from the rest of humanity."

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