The Corner

Growth Beats Inequality

William A. Galston’s column from last week reports some interesting polling data on economic growth and income inequality.

Surveys of 3,000 Americans conducted between January and March of 2014 by the Global Strategy Group found that fully 78% thought that it was important for Congress to promote an agenda of economic growth that would benefit all Americans. Support for policies that help the middle class and bolster equal opportunity for everyone were also highly rated. Strategies to spread wealth more evenly and reduce income inequality received the least support; 53% believe that fostering economic growth is “extremely important,” compared with only 30% who take that view about narrowing income inequality.

The Global Strategy Group even found a substantial level of agreement about the way to promote growth. A majority of all Americans endorsed policies to make college more affordable, modernize our infrastructure, provide additional job training for workers, invest more in basic research, technological development and K-12 education, and reduce outsourcing by American companies. They favor policies that would raise wages and increase fairness—if those policies boost growth.

These views have political consequences. By 59% to 37%, Global Strategy Group found that Americans prefer a candidate who focuses on economic growth to one who emphasizes economic fairness. By a remarkable margin of 64 percentage points (80% to 16%), they opt for a candidate who focuses on more economic growth to one who emphasizes less income inequality.

(Bold mine.) Conservatives can, should, and — to some extent — are getting behind policies to decrease the cost of college, raise workers’ skills, make work pay, and fix K-12 education. And some of us, including me, have written about a conservative approach to infrastructure. These efforts aren’t limited to writers and researchers. Recent proposals by Rep. Paul Ryan, Sen. Marco Rubio, and Sen. Mike Lee deserve special attention.

This body of ideas is (at least the start of) a pro-growth agenda — exactly the kind of agenda (at least in spirit) that the survey respondents claim to want. It is not the left’s agenda, which focuses on “economic fairness” and narrowing income inequality.

And it’s an agenda that’s better for the country, as Americans seem to understand.

— Michael R. Strain is a resident scholar and economist at the American Enterprise Institute. You can write to him on Twitter at twitter.com/MichaelRStrain.

Michael R. Strain — Michael R. Strain is the director of economic-policy studies and the Arthur F. Burns Scholar in Political Economy at the American Enterprise Institute.  

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