Must-Read: Marshall Steinbaum: The Unseen Threat of Capital Mobility

Must-Read: Marshall Steinbaum: The Unseen Threat of Capital Mobility: “The Hidden Wealth of Nations: The Scourge of Tax Havens

…by Gabriel Zucman, University of Chicago Press, $20 (cloth). Out of Sight: The Long and Disturbing Story of Corporations Outsourcing Catastrophe by Erik Loomis, The New Press, $25.95 (cloth). Two new books link rising inequality to unseen forces: tax havens in economist Gabriel Zucman’s case, and overseas labor and environmental exploitation in historian Erik Loomis’s. The adverse consequences of the free movement of capital suffuse both narratives…. Both authors propose tariffs, capital controls, and international regulatory standards that would either re-erect national boundaries or threaten to do so–proposals that will strike many readers as misguided, out of touch with political reality, or both….

When the Rana Plaza factory collapsed in 2013, Loomis engaged in a memorable online dispute with Matthew Yglesias, who published a piece on the disaster headlined ‘Different Places Have Different Safety Rules and That’s Okay’…. Loomis’s and Zucman’s calls for re-erecting national boundaries and re-empowering democratically accountable regulators are implications of a much more successful model for explaining why inequality has risen so much within developed and developing countries than in Yglesias’ just-so story: capital has gained the upper hand over labor by creating and accessing outside options while eliminating those of its opponents. Both books are the product of careful reconsideration and critique of received wisdom in the fields each covers, and more casual commentators would be wise to take heed of their implications instead of peddling discredited objections to any check on international capital mobility.

October 30, 2015


Brad DeLong
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