Concern about income disparity has managed to rise to the national stage in just a matter of months, with journalists, politicians and news anchors speaking daily about excess pay and the 99 percent.
Tuesday, UC Berkeley academia also entered the discussion with the publication of the “Occupy Handbook,” a compilation of more than 50 articles about the movement by some of the most renowned economists in the United States, including UC Berkeley economics professors Brad DeLong and Emmanuel Saez and public policy professor Robert Reich.
The book traces the historical and economic events that led to the 2007 recession and birth of the Occupy movement, highlighting the financial deregulation of the 1970s, special interests in politics and lowered tax rates for the wealthiest Americans.
In an essay published in the book titled “Occupy Democracy,” Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor during the Clinton administration, argues that income inequality has created a situation in which moneyed interests control politics. The concentration of wealth threatens the First Amendment and democracy in the United States, which is evident by the crackdown on the free speech and assembly of Occupy protesters across the country, he says.
“Now more than ever, the first amendment needs to be put right side up,” Reich writes. “Nothing less than the future of our democracy is at stake.”
Reich became publicly associated with the Occupy movement after he gave a speech on Sproul Plaza at UC Berkeley Nov. 15 that drew a crowd of thousands. His speech echoed some of the concerns in his article, such as rising inequality and the loss of political power for the majority of Americans.
Saez and Nobel Prize-winning economist Peter Diamond co-authored an article published in the book that argues for a steeper progressive tax. They recommend that tax rates for high earners are raised to between 48 and 76 percent, that the earnings of low-income families are temporarily subsidized, and that higher taxes are issued on capital gains.
“It’s nice to see economists engage with the popular movement of the time,” said Emiliano Huet-Vaughn, a UC Berkeley graduate student of economics, in an email. “I have great respect for the work (of DeLong, Saez and Reich).”
Along with the Berkeley professors, Princeton University professor of Economics and International Affairs Paul Krugman, a recipient of the Nobel Prize and a columnist for The New York Times, former Chairman of the Federal Reserve Paul Volcker, former Governor of New York Eliot Spitzer and “Moneyball” author Michael Lewis contributed.
Saez, DeLong and Reich could not be reached for comment.