International -- Readers Report
`PUTTING MILKEN ON A PEDESTAL IS GOING TOO FAR' (int'l edition)
In "Who did more for mankind, Mother Teresa or Mike Milken?" (Economic Viewpoint, Mar. 2) Paul Craig Roberts illustrates the kind of "capitalist activism" that is reminiscent of the 1848 Communist Manifesto--but the free-market version.
The sad event of the past two decades, though, is the emergence of a new breed of corporate tycoon, socially less responsible or philanthropic than their predecessors. Income inequality is, indeed, a natural consequence of free-market activity. During the 1950s and '60s, efforts to address this imbalance enormously enhanced the wealth of the U.S.--and its reputation around the globe.
I am in favor of free markets and trade, small government, and moderate tax brackets. I cannot, however, sit back and applaud the insensitivity to public needs and public opinion being displayed by most new players in the global economy and their backers in government agencies around the world. Nor can I approve of these people's pursuit of monopoly power over entire segments of the U.S. or the world markets. I am convinced that, in a normal world, both the skills of Michael R. Milken and the dedication of Mother Teresa are needed.
For a middle-of-the-roader believing in balance, it's good to see that not only liberal but also neoliberal economists are capable of generating sophomoric drivel. No sane businessperson will contradict the truism that capitalism requires freedom, but putting Milken on a pedestal is going too far. His name serves more accurately to demonstrate the need for regulation. We don't need and want income equality; neither do we need return to a feudal society that much of Roberts' writing promotes.
Hanns John Maier
Paul Craig Roberts is way off the mark when he asserts that income inequality is not a problem, but a consequence of a free society. First of all, what really matters is not a free society but a democratic one. And herein lies Roberts' first error. Second, the consequence of a "free" society is not the inequality of incomes but the inequality of chances. A completely unchecked economy tends toward cartels because that's the natural human trend. It's safer, easier, and pays off handsomely in economy of scale and profits.
It is the excess of clusters that promotes inequalities of income. Roberts even goes to the point of saying that "unequal incomes are proof that the market is doing its job." On the contrary, unequal incomes are proof that the government is not doing its job of ensuring that competition prevails. And please don't come with stock options for an answer to increase the income of the entire population. It's simply unfeasible.