October 18, 2017

Archives for September 14, 2017

Why We Can’t Talk About Economic Inequality

It is not just the super-rich who don’t like to talk about rising income inequality. It can be an ideologically uncomfortable conversation for many of the rest of us, too. That’s because even — or perhaps particularly — in the view of its most ardent supporters, global capitalism wasn’t supposed to work quite this way.

That’s from Plutocrats: The Rise of the new Global Super Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else, Chrystia Freeland (2012). The book reads like an extended academic version of People Magazine meets CNN meets The New York Times, and could only have been written by someone who logged years on the insider track and took lots of notes.

Turns out that’s precisely who Chrystia Freeland is. She’s a Canadian writer, journalist, and politician. She worked in a variety of editorial positions at the Financial Times, The Globe and Mail, and Thomson Reuters, was elected to the Canadian Parliament in 2013 (the year after the book came out), and was appointed Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs earlier this year. She’s a Harvard grad, a Rhodes Scholar, and was named one of Toronto’s 50 most influential people by Toronto Life Magazine in 2015.

The book takes names and tells stories, and is awash in dates and times and statistics. Reading it all the way through can be a bit of a slog, and I wonder how many people actually do — I confess, I skimmed a lot. I quote it here because it does a great job of capturing the lessons of my last two posts: 1) most of us haven’t updated our understanding of economics since Econ 101, and 2) we don’t like talking about economic inequality. Beginning with the quote above, the book provides a useful overview of how those two things are related. (These quotes are particularly re: income inequality, but apply to capital inequality as well.)

Until the past few decades, the received wisdom among economists was that income inequality would be fairly low in the preindustrial era—overall wealth and productivity fairly small, so there wasn’t that much for the elite to capture— then spike during industrialization, as the industrialists and industrial workers outstripped farmers (think of China today). Finally, in fully industrialized or postindustrial societies, income inequality would again decrease as education became more widespread and the state played a bigger, more redistributive role.

(This theory was articulated by Nobel Prize winning economist Simon Kuzmets, and can be plotted in what has become known as the Kuzmets curve. According to Wikipedia, Kuzmets won the award in 1971 “for his empirically founded interpretation of economic growth which has led to new and deepened insight into the economic and social structure and process of development.”)

Continuing with Plutocrats:

Until the 1970’s, the United States… was also an embodiment of the Kuzmets curve. The great postwar expansion was also the period of what economists have dubbed the Great Compression, when inequality shrank, and most Americans came to think of themselves as the middle class.

But in the late 1970’s, things started to change. The income of the middle class started to stagnate and those at the top began to pull away from everyone else. The shift was most pronounced in the United States, but by the twenty-first century, surging income inequality had become a worldwide phenomenon, visible in most of the developed Western economies, as well as in the rising emerging markets.

The switch from the America of the Great Compression to the America of the 1 percent is still so recent that our intuitive beliefs about how capitalism works haven’t caught up with the reality. In fact, surging income inequality is such a strong violation of our expectations that most of us don’t realize it is happening.

We’ll look at some inequality stats next time.

 

Kevin Rhodes is on a mission to bring professional excellence and personal wellbeing to the people who learn, teach, and practice the law. His past blog posts for the CBA have been collected in two volumes — click the book covers for more information.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Restitution Statute Does Not Require Prosecution’s Requested Specificity for Setoff

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Stanley on Thursday, September 7, 2017.

Traffic Accident—Unapportioned Settlement—Crime Victim Compensation Program—Restitution—Setoff—Burden of Proof.

Stanley’s automobile insurer, Geico Indemnity Co. (Geico), entered into a “Release in Full of All Claims” (release) with the victim and her husband. Under the settlement, Geico paid the victim $25,000 for all claims related to and stemming from the accident in exchange for a full and final release of all claims against Stanley and Geico. Thereafter, Stanley pleaded guilty to felony vehicular assault, driving under the influence, and careless driving. The prosecution filed a motion to impose restitution and attached a report from the Crime Victim Compensation Program (CVCP). It showed that the CVCP had paid the victim $30,000, the maximum amount allowable by statute, for pecuniary losses proximately caused by Stanley’s criminal conduct. The Court awarded Stanley a $25,000 setoff against restitution for the amount paid by Geico, and ordered him to pay the $5,000 net amount.

On appeal, the prosecution argued that Stanley should not receive a setoff for the settlement funds because the release was an unapportioned settlement that did not “earmark” the proceeds for the same expenses compensated by the CVCP, leaving open the possibility that the victim used the proceeds for losses not compensated by the CVCP. When a victim receives compensation from a civil settlement against a defendant, the defendant may request a setoff against restitution “to the extent of any money actually paid to the victim for the same damages.” For purposes of a setoff, however, the court cannot allocate proceeds from an unapportioned civil settlement agreement without “specific evidence that the settlement included particular categories of loss,” because in civil cases victims may recover both pecuniary losses covered by the restitution statute and other damages specifically excluded under the restitution statute. Because the information needed to determine whether a victim has been fully compensated or has received a double recovery is known only by the victim, once a defendant has shown that a civil settlement includes the same categories of losses or expenses as compensated by the CVCP and awarded as restitution, the defendant has met his burden of going forward, and the prosecution may then rebut the inference that a double recovery has occurred. Here, Stanley met his burden of proving a setoff, but the victim may have used some or all of the settlement proceeds for losses not compensated by the CVCP.

The order was affirmed, and the case was remanded to permit the prosecution to show that the victim did not receive a double recovery from the settlement proceeds and the CVCP payment.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Payment Obligation Under Marital Agreement Terminates at Death of Either Party

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in In re Estate of Williams on Thursday, September 7, 2017.

Dissolution of Marriage—Premarital Agreement—Separation Agreement—Maintenance—Estate.

Husband and wife executed a premarital agreement providing that husband would pay wife “during her lifetime” and wife would be entitled to receive from husband “during her lifetime” monthly payments on the filing of a petition for dissolution. In exchange for the monthly payments, wife waived maintenance. Husband and wife’s marriage ended in 1996, and husband consistently made monthly payments to wife under their separation agreement until his death. When husband’s estate refused to continue making the payments, wife filed the underlying action. The district court ruled that the premarital and separation agreements obligated the estate to continue making the monthly payments to wife until her death or remarriage. The court also awarded wife attorney fees and costs under the prevailing party provisions of the agreements.

On appeal, the estate contended that the district court erred in ruling that husband’s obligation under the premarital and separation agreements to make monthly payments to wife survived his death as an obligation of his estate. The premarital and separation agreements reflect agreement regarding the duration of the monthly payments relative to the life or marital status of the wife, but say nothing about what would happen on husband’s death. The separation agreement also released the parties and their estates from claims and demands. Therefore, husband’s personal obligation to pay ended when he died, absent a clear indication to the contrary, which neither the premarital nor separation agreement provided.

The estate also contended that the district court erroneously awarded wife attorney fees and costs and that it should have been awarded its own attorney fees under the prevailing party provisions of the agreements. The Colorado Court of Appeals agreed.

The order and judgments were reversed and the case was remanded with directions.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 9/13/2017

On Wednesday, September 13, 2017, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued no published opinion and three unpublished opinions.

Bruscino v. True

Davis v. Schnurr

United States v. Niles

Case summaries are not provided for unpublished opinions. However, some published opinions are summarized and provided by Legal Connection.