Les bonnes et les mauvaises inégalités

PRINCETON – Dans le panthéon des théories économiques, la notion de compromis entre l’égalité et l’efficacité a longtemps occupé une place prépondérante. L’économiste américain Arthur Okun, dont l’ouvrage classique sur le sujet est intitulé L’égalité et l’efficacité : le grand compromis, pensait que les politiques publiques avaient essentiellement pour vocation de gérer les tensions entre ces deux valeurs. Tout récemment encore, lorsque l’économiste de l’université de New York Thomas Sargent s’est adressé à la classe des diplômés de 2007 de l’université de Californie à Berkeley, résumant le bon sens économique en 12 principes, la notion de compromis figurait en bonne place.

L’idée qu’il faut sacrifier l’efficacité économique pour parvenir à l’égalité est enracinée dans l’un des concepts favoris de l’économie : les incitations. Les entreprises et les individus doivent pouvoir envisager une croissance de leurs revenus pour épargner, investir, travailler dur et innover. Si l’imposition des entreprises rentables et des foyers aisés amoindrit ces perspectives, le résultat sera une plus faible croissance économique et des efforts individuels moindres. Les pays communistes, où les expériences égalitaires ont conduit au désastre économique, ont longtemps servi à illustrer l’échec des politiques de redistribution.  

Ces dernières années, ni la théorie économique, ni les données empiriques n’ont été tendres envers ce compromis supposé. Les économistes ont avancé de nouveaux arguments démontrant qu’une bonne performance économique n’est pas seulement compatible avec une équité distributive, mais pourrait en fait l’exiger.

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