As Barack Obama scrambles to eviscerate key sections of his own signature health care law, he and other Democrats are trying to shift voters' focus to another issue -- income inequality.
Unfortunately, the solutions they advocate are pitifully inadequate or painfully perverse.
Start with the minimum wage, which some Democrats see as an election-winning wedge issue in 2014.
True, raising the minimum wage polls well. But does anybody really care much about it? Few minimum wage earners are heads of households; many more are teenagers earning spare cash.
Most economists agree that a higher minimum wage costs some low-skilled workers their jobs. And the economic redistribution it produces, from fast-food consumers to fast-food employees, is pretty minimal.
Another Democratic policy is to continue extending unemployment benefits. The intellectual argument for this is stronger.
Ordinarily, extended benefits tend to discourage the unemployed from looking for work. Their skills atrophy, and finding a job later gets harder.
But in the current new-normal economy, with record long-term unemployment, there simply haven't been enough job openings for many of the unemployed. Many Republicans look open to a compromise on this issue.
In any case the redistributionist effect will be only minor and, if robust economic growth returns, temporary.
One Democrat who argues for greater change is University of Arizona political scientist Lane Kenworthy. He believes the nation is and should be headed to a European-style welfare state, with the government taxing and spending 10 percent more of gross domestic product than at present.
Kenworthy would transform unemployment benefits into wage insurance, would start early education at age 1 and would vastly expand the Earned Income Tax Credit.
That's progressive economic redistribution, but with a catch. For as Kenworthy admits, you can't get the money for this just by raising taxes on very high earners: "The math simply doesn't work."
So he looks to a federal consumption tax, like Europe's value-added taxes. That would mean shifting from the current progressive income tax toward a more regressive European-style tax regime, with middle-income workers subsidizing non-workers.
Other proposals floated by Democrats, such as Senator Elizabeth Warren's call for substantially increased Social Security benefits, would have similarly perverse effects.
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