Thursday, April 08, 2010

Babbling Brooks

I like that David Brooks uses social science research to inform his writing, but he does have a tendency to interpret that work in ways that reinforce his own political preferences. In today's NYT, Brooks comments on data showing that wealthier Americans work more hours than poorer Americans and asks, "How do you construct a rich versus poor narrative when the rich are more industrious?"

But are the rich more industrious or just better rewarded for their industry? Recently The Economist took up this issue and pointed to research showing that class mobility in the US in much lower than in many European nations. As a result:

With only an 8 percent shot at joining the richest quintile, it's not surprising that America's poor work far fewer hours. If working harder is a key ingredient in growing per capita income, then America ought to be interested in increasing the return to work across all income categories. The poor, like the Europeans, are rational, not lazy.

The Economist also points to the relationship between hours worked and marginal tax rates. If we are, as many conservatives claim, on the downslope of the Laffer Curve, then the higher tax rates of the wealthy should cause them to work less, not more than the less wealthy who have lower tax rates. But that's not the case.

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