Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

La nouvelle ère des monopoles

NEW-YORK – Depuis 200 ans deux écoles de pensée s'opposent sur ce qui détermine la distribution des revenus et sur la manière dont fonctionne l'économie. La première émane d'Adam Smith et des économistes libéraux du 19° siècle, elle privilégie la concurrence sur les marchés. La seconde, sachant que cette forme de libéralisme conduit rapidement à la concentration des patrimoines et des revenus, prend pour point de départ la tendance intrinsèque des marchés à favoriser la création de monopoles. Il faut comprendre ces deux écoles, car notre point de vue sur la politique et sur les inégalités est forgé par celle des deux dont nous pensons qu'elle décrit le mieux la réalité.

Pour les libéraux du 19° siècle et leurs futurs acolytes, du fait de la concurrence, les bénéfices des individus sont liés à leur contribution à la société, leur "productivité marginale" dans le langage des économistes. Les capitalistes sont récompensés pour économiser plutôt que pour dépenser - pour leur abstinence, selon la formule de Nassau Senior, l'un de mes prédécesseurs à la chaire Drummond d'économie politique de l'université d'Oxford. Estimant que le revenu de chacun dépend des actifs qu'il détient, le capital humain et financier, les universitaires qui étudiaient les inégalités se sont intéressés aux déterminants de la distribution des actifs - particulièrement à leur transfert d'une génération à l'autre.

La seconde école prend pour point de départ le pouvoir, notamment celui d'exercer un contrôle monopolistique, ou sur le marché de l'emploi le pouvoir d'imposer son autorité sur les travailleurs. Les universitaires spécialisés dans ce domaine s'intéressent à l'origine du pouvoir, à la manière dont il se maintient et se renforce et aux autres facteurs qui peuvent fausser la concurrence. Les études sur l'exploitation qui résulte de l'asymétrie de l'information en sont un excellent exemple.

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