So I am inclined to agree with Cowen when he writes, "The broader change in income distribution, the one occurring beneath the very top earners, can be deconstructed in a manner that makes nearly all of it look harmless."
Cowen is worried that high earners in financial industries benefit hugely when they bet correctly but are sheltered from losses by government bailouts when they bet wrong. It's a problem that the financial regulation bill passed by the outgoing Congress addressed but, in his opinion and those of many others I respect, did not solve.
But there's little evidence that most Americans begrudge the exceedingly high earnings of the likes of Steve Jobs, Steven Spielberg or J.K. Rowling. We believe they have earned their success and don't see how taking money away from them will make the rest of us better off.
We already take quite a bit. Current tax rates mean that the top 1 percent of earners account for 40 percent of federal income tax revenue -- a higher percentage than in many Western European countries. Higher tax rates would probably produce more tax avoidance -- rich people can adjust their affairs -- and lower revenues than forecast by static economic models.
Of course, not everyone is well off in a nation where unemployment has been 9.4 percent or higher for the last 19 months. And I suspect that most Americans would be thrilled to get a 13th month of pay. But they're not seething with envy at those who are better off.
So who does? One example is the cartoonist and author Garry Trudeau, a college classmate of George W. Bush, who has been spewing contempt for the Bushes for 40-some years. The strongest class envy in America, it turns out, may be the resentment of those who were one club above you at Yale.
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