At the Atlantic, an article by Matthew O'Brien accompanied by charts purports to show that "the superrich have once again decoupled from everybody else," and that the "super-rich have left everyone behind the past 30-years." The charts show "real income," not post-tax, post-transfer income that includes the value of employer-provided health insurance, which might tell a different story. The charts also make it look as though the top 0.1 percent income earners in 1976 were the same as the top 0.1 percent income earners today, when in fact, there is plenty of mobility out of that top echelon as once-great businesses fade or as once-dominant athletes or performing artists age and retire. Finally, "everyone else" gets plenty of benefits from the super-rich that aren't necessarily measured in statistics of "real income." While Google's boom may show up in the income of its super-rich founders or early investors, for example, how do you measure the value to "everybody else" of free e-mail and the readily accessible information in Google's free search results? And while the value of a new medical treatment may show up in the income of a medical device manufacturer or pharmaceutical executive, how do you measure the value to "everybody else" of the added life-years, or higher quality life-years, that result from the medical innovation?
The author sounds nostalgic for the New Deal that he says ended the last Gilded Age. But remember, the New Deal wasn't a response to the Gilded Age, but to the Great Depression.