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Opinion: Inequality by Way of Government



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Often when I make the case for free-market capitalism, I’ll get a head nod or two and then the inevitable comeback: “Yeah, but inequality.”

Forget all the great things that capitalism has done, the smartphones we carry, the broadband we use to stream movies, the drugs and vaccines that extend lives. Forget those who hold back consumption to fund or invent stuff that brings the masses out of poverty. Because Jeff Bezos had the audacity to get rich for his efforts, he gets pushback. All that technology and red-meat capitalism comes at a great societal cost, critics say. People with smartphones are living below the poverty line. Capitalism is broken and needs to be reformed. We need a new, fairer system.

Oh, we’re getting one, good and hard. (See: stimulus, $1.9 trillion plus another $3 trillion coming up.) John Cochrane, an economist and senior fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution, tells me inequality is raised frequently as a nasty symptom of some alleged disease of capitalism. “Not so fast,” he warns. “Are capitalism and free markets the reasons for income inequality? Or are misguided government interventions to blame?”

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