Wednesday, October 22, 2014
12

Recompensa injusta

BERKELEY – A melhor recensão que li até hoje da obra de Thomas Piketty, O Capital no Século XXI, foi escrita pelo meu amigo e frequente co-autor, Lawrence Summers, e publicada no Democracy Journal de Michael Tomasky. Leia-o agora.

Ainda por aqui? Não está disposto a ler 5.000 palavras? Garanto-lhe que seria tempo bem aplicado. Mas se ainda aqui está, não irei oferecer-lhe uma sinopse nem os pontos de destaque, mas sim um breve desenvolvimento de uma questão mínima secundária, um aparte na crítica de Summers relativo à filosofia moral.

Summers escreve: “Há muitas questões dignas de crítica relativamente às disposições existentes em matéria de governação empresarial”. “Contudo, na minha opinião, aqueles que, à semelhança de Piketty, rejeitam a ideia de que a produtividade se prende, de alguma forma, com a compensação deviam fazer uma pausa.” Por que razão? “Os executivos que mais dinheiro ganham não...gerem empresas públicas” e “não enchem as administrações com amigos”, diz Summers. Em vez disso, são “escolhidos por empresas de participações privadas para gerir as firmas que controlam. Isto não serve, de forma alguma, como justificação ética da compensação excessiva – serve apenas para levantar dúvidas quanto às forças económicas que estão na sua origem.”

Esta última frase sublinha o facto de a nossa discussão filosófica-moral sobre quem merece o quê ter ficado emaranhada, de modo fundamentalmente inútil, na economia da teoria da produtividade marginal da distribuição de rendimentos. Suponhamos que efectivamente assim o é, que existem decisores dispostos a pagar uma fortuna imensa para contratar alguém numa transacção de concorrência integralmente genuína, não porque a pessoa em causa lhe fez favores no passado ou porque dela se esperam favores no futuro. Esse facto, diz Summers, não implica que a pessoa “ganhe” ou “mereça” essa fortuna em sentido pertinente.

Se ganharmos a lotaria – e se o grande prémio que recebemos servir para que as probabilidades de se poder ganhar sejam sobrestimadas, induzindo outras pessoas a comprar bilhetes de lotaria e assim enriquecer a operadora da lotaria – seremos “merecedores” desse prémio? Ficamos satisfeitos por recebê-lo e a operadora da lotaria fica satisfeita por pagar-nos, mas as restantes pessoas que compraram bilhetes de lotaria não ficam satisfeitas – ou talvez não ficassem satisfeitas se elas próprias compreendessem qual a real probabilidade de ganharem o prémio e em que medida o facto de termos ganho está cuidadosamente ajustado para iludi-las.

Será que, após termos ganho, é nossa obrigação passar o resto da vida a dizer a todas as pessoas que deviam depositar o dinheiro que gastam em bilhetes de lotaria numa conta poupança-reforma de forte participação e que usufrui de benefícios fiscais e, deste modo, em vez de pagar “à casa” pelo privilégio de apostar tornar-se-iam elas próprias a “casa”, ganhando 5% por ano? Será que, à semelhança do Velho Marinheiro de Coleridge, estamos moralmente obrigados a contar a nossa história a todas as pessoas que encontramos?

Eu diria que sim. E diria que o mesmo se aplica em geral aos elementos geradores de desigualdade que nós, economistas, designamos como “torneios”. Ao que parece os torneios revelaram-se, de facto, bons mecanismos de incentivo: a oferta de um punhado de grandes prémios resulta na participação de um grande número de pessoas a fim de tentarem a sua sorte. Porém, dada a aversão do ser humano ao risco, a única razão sensata para organizar um torneio reside no facto de este impor distorções cognitivas ao candidato típico. Eu, como organizador, estou a prejudicá-lo – ou antes, estou a prejudicar a sua faceta melhor e mais racional – fornecendo-lhe dados distorcidos; no mínimo, estou a ajudá-lo e a encorajá-lo a prejudicar-se a si próprio (uma vez que ele, na qualidade de participante na lotaria, está a fazer uma escolha livre).

Mas há mais. Suponhamos que, de alguma forma, auferimos o nosso real produto marginal para a sociedade. O facto de termos a sorte de reunir condições para ganhar o nosso produto marginal não é mais do que uma questão de sorte. Outros não têm tanta sorte. Outros descobrem que o seu poder negocial é limitado – talvez à mesma escala do que seria o seu nível de vida caso se mudassem para o Iucão e vivessem da terra. Seremos merecedores da nossa sorte? Por definição, não: ninguém merece sorte. E o que é que ficamos a dever a quem poderia ter obtido o que merece se não tivéssemos tido a sorte de lá chegar primeiro?

E, claro, em que medida somos culpados de viver no ambiente certo para tornar-nos, a nós e às nossas competências, extremamente produtivos na economia actual? Como foi, exactamente, que escolhemos os pais “certos”? Por que razão, em última análise, os nossos resultados favoráveis não são fruto de pura sorte não merecida?

Teríamos uma discussão muito mais clara sobre as questões da desigualdade e da distribuição se nos cingíssemos simplesmente às considerações do bem-estar humano e dos incentivos úteis. O resto é ideologia meritocrática; e, tal como se percebe pela receptividade que o livro de Piketty teve, essa ideologia pode bem ter os seus dias contados.

Tradução: Teresa Bettencourt

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  1. CommentedEllie Kesselman

    I find this style of phrasing every sentence as a question to be rather condescending.

    Is the conclusion suggesting that we, the commoners, should not aspire to education, success and monetary wealth yet not question those among us who have achieved it? I'm missing something I guess, but this not Professor de Long's finer moments.

  2. CommentedG. A. Pakela

    If meritocracy is an ideology, how then do you explain your apparent success in your chosen field, success that most academic and government economists would die for? Our whole society is built upon voluntary exchange and what people are willing to pay for goods and services. While it may not be easy or even possible to measure the marginal productivity of say, and administrator, we certainly know how much it costs to procure that individual. Somehow I can't imagine leaving that decision up to Harry Reid.

  3. CommentedPaul Daley

    The problem here is that DeLong attributes inequality to the "tournament" structure of the economy, while Piketty attributes it to returns on capital that have consistently exceeded growth, producing a "patrimonial capitalism," The returns are delinked from merit in either case but Piketty presents far more evidence for his view. Moreover, Summers and DeLong imply that if you're dissatisfied with the results of one tournament all you need do is wait for the next role of the dice. Piketty presents a more "actionable" alternative that flows naturally from his research.

  4. CommentedDavid Beard

    I would echo the William Pu: Who deserves what? I do not see Mr. J. Bradford Delong questioning does he deserve an economics job at UC, nor does he question the financial gains of Mr. Piketty's book sales nor the substantial royalty stream enjoyed by Ms. Jessica Simpson from her apparel sales...who does truly deserve what?

  5. CommentedYoshimichi Moriyama

    I cannot judge Piketty's book as I do not have knowledge enough. but whether Piketty's book is perfect or has any flaws in it will be to a large extent irrelevant. Suppose our market is perfectly flat; everyone is equal in it, starting from the same place at the same time; the result at the finish line is that one per cent is wealthy and ninety-nine poor. Such a society will not be a good society and able to sustain itself in the long run.

    "All types of societies are limited by economic factors. Nineteenth century civilization alone was economic in a different and distinctive sense, for it chose to base itself on a motive only rarely acknowledged as valid in the history of human societies, and certainly never before raised to the level of a justification of action and behavior in every day life, namely gain. The self-regulating market system was uniquely derived from this principle (Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation.)" Every society except our own has had rules and regulations which impinged on and hampered unlimited and unfettered
    economic activities. Focusing on greed is endangering our civilized way of life.

    Economics tells us what would be the least costly or most productive way of flying from Tokyo to New York. It tells us not to make stopovers at Honolulu and Mexico City. This part of economics is science. But it does not tell us why we should go to New York and not to Washington D.C. It does not tell us why we should not make stopovers if we wanted to.

  6. CommentedWilliam Pu

    "Who deserves what?"
    What your gunpoint will bear or what the "market" will bear is THE answer. Everything else is just talk.

    Global trade did not start after nations signed agreements. Global trade started with gunboat diplomacy. The "backlash"? W/o gunboat trades have been more fair. Well, pick your poison. Fair trade or isolation. But, gunboat has been replaced by drones. Effective or not? We'll see.

  7. CommentedMounik Lahiri

    Found it to be a very sketchy critique, ridden with logical fallacies on the construction of an absolutist definition of luck. The argument should just be very simple. Inequality that gives hope is an incentive for progress and inequality that kills hope is an incentive to remain in status quo and a barrier for upward social mobility. Institutions and individuals who govern and design them, by and large, need to understand therefore the limits of the ability of inequality to incentivise performance and how it does the reverse, in many a situation. Also philosophers and economists need to improve the understanding of inequality in clearly actionable terms rather than making complex arguments, with a dash of ethics and morality thrown in, for their own cognitive kicks.

  8. CommentedProcyon Mukherjee

    Sometimes the obvious is shrouded in the mysterious argument that the obscure would find wanting in rationality; that inequality of wealth has been brewing under our nose facilitated by all means by the systems and structures of the market forces is now being questioned by the same wisdom that made all the allowances that led to its thriving growth prospects.

    Should not the wisdom be diverted towards the bottom 90% and how their income could be raised? It need not be that the solutions prescribed by Piketty is the only consideration, he himself has been modest to say that his way of looking at the problem and the solution is just one of the many ways that existed, he wrote in response to FT, “The main message coming from my book is not that there should always be a deterministic trend toward ever rising inequality (I do not believe in this); the main message is that we need more democratic transparency about wealth dynamics, so that we are able to adjust our institutions and policies to whatever we observe.”

  9. CommentedJohn Stevens

    Dear Prof. DeLong,
    I fully agree with your insights about Mr. Picketty's book contributing to raising the debate on moral philosophy and meritocracy. "Capital in the 21st Century" is indeed triggering global debates on a number of conveniently forgotten issues. Of all the reviews I have read so far about Picketty's master piece, Lawrence Summers is a indeed must. I would include here Robert Shiller's (which is available in this site) and a brilliant post written by Manuel Gomes Samuel linking high labor income concentration to office and factory automation (available at:
    http://www.prospectivemanagement.net/?p=206).

  10. CommentedGerry Hofman

    Delong is obviously keen that no limits will be imposed to the levels of wealth that one can achieve, ever. His argument that the wealthy are simply'lucky' but should not be judged on that, because nobody deserves to be 'lucky', sounds rather hollow. The fact that wealth is worshipped like a god in this society does not mean that it's right for the system to be set up to compel everybody to gamble to get somewhere in life. In a just system there would be limits to wealth and limits to poverty, but this social order can and will not impose such limits. The idea that the ideology of wealth has run its course is just pathetic. This story is certain not to end here, and you may yet have your 'just dessert' served up to you.

  11. CommentedCris Perdue

    To put it in another way, how about emphasizing values and vision for our world and human relationships in discussions about economics and inequality?

      CommentedZsolt Hermann

      Thank you for your refreshing comment, I fully agree with you.

      Most of the times it seems we are completely lost in the jungle of markets, GPDs, yearly growth figures, completely forgetting we are human beings after all not primarily producers and consumers.

      This whole discussion about economics, inequality, growth, financial institutions is useless in itself.
      We have completely lost sight of the purpose of our lives and the intention we should be acting with.

      A human being is not born in order to continuously gain possession, to gain profit, to measure one's worth in material wealth or in one's dominion above others. Production and consumption should be simply providing our necessities for a comfortable and natural human life.

      Human beings are social creatures and our contentment, health has to be measures in the quantity and quality of human interconnections we build with each other, and in with what intention we create those connections.

      Europe is one of the best examples of the misunderstanding, they on paper created a Union, an interconnection but only in order to facilitate markets and financial flows, in order to gather even more profit. And as a result it fails since the intention was wrong.

      And the ruthlessly competitive business mentality, the success at the expense of others brings wars, social inequality and global crisis, not to mention the depletion of human and natural resources.

      Without the right connections, without the right intention behind those connections, without mutually cooperating with each other humanity has simply no right to evolve further, we have no future.

      Our crisis is much deeper than a "simple economical or financial crisis".
      We are in a "human crisis", and the only solution is to return to the values that make us human.

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