No, There Isn't Going to Be a Compromise on Inequality

A blog about business and economics.
Jan. 24 2014 9:22 AM

No, There Isn't Going to Be a Compromise on Inequality

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Same old disagreements.

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Some headline writer at The New York Times bafflingly slapped "Address May Hint at Compromise on Ways to Fight Inequality" atop Jackie Calmes' State of the Union curtain-raiser. The actual text of the article is much more restrained, but it does open the door to some suggestion of a possibility of a compromose that just isn't there:

The best-known Republicans speaking out on poverty and opportunity have presidential ambitions, among them Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida and Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. Influential conservative economists and columnists have spoken up as well.

While their comments suggest the two parties agree mainly on the problem, not the remedies, some Republicans and Democrats see a chance, if small, for compromises — perhaps on tax policy, education and job-training initiatives, even the federal minimum wage.

There's just no room for meaningful compromise here thanks to our old friend taxes. As you'll recall, Republicans don't want to raise them and they especially object to raising taxes on high income individuals. They want to lower taxes on high income individuals. It is true that sometimes (1999-2000) they want to do this to avoid a dangerous budget surplus while at other times (2001, 2008-10) they want to do it as economic stimulus while at yet other times (2003-7) they want to do it as a long-term growth strategy or (2011-2013) as a tax simplification strategy. But the policy ask—lower taxes, especially on rich people—doesn't change.

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The fact that Republicans are now talking about poverty and social mobility is interesting, but the way you get compromises is that people need to change their policies. Obama certainly hasn't softened his interest in progressive taxation and Republicans haven't softened their rampant opposition.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.