Bruce Meyer, James Sullivan, 15 January 2018

Concerns about rising inequality inform important debates on some of our most significant policy issues, but the debate over inequality relies almost exclusively on income data. This column argues that consumption data show how changes in inequality in economic wellbeing are more nuanced than a simple story of rising dispersion throughout the distribution. In the bottom half of the distribution there is little evidence rising consumption inequality, and in the top half of the distribution the rise in consumption inequality has been much more modest than the rise in income inequality, particularly since 2000. 

Ravi Kanbur, 08 January 2018

Technological innovation is broadly accepted as a driving force behind diverging wage trends in the last three decades. If this is set to continue, policymakers must choose how to respond to the ensuing income inequality. This column assesses two established policy response ideas – state-sponsored formal education, and tax and transfer mechanisms – and postulates a third, namely, that the pace and distributional effects of technological change should themselves be policy goals. A policy intervention that would make innovation more labour intensive would be the most powerful response of all.

Leonardo Gasparini, Guillermo Cruces, Sebastian Galiani, Pablo Acosta, 05 January 2018

While income dispersion significantly increased over the 1990s in most Latin American countries, the 2000s were characterised by a widespread fall in socioeconomic and labour disparities. This column uses a supply-demand framework to explore changes in labour market returns to education in the region. The relative supply of skilled labour rose consistently over the period, while the wage skill premium rose then fell. Supply-side factors seem less important than demand-side factors in accounting for changes in the skill premium, especially between workers with a tertiary education and the rest.

Peter Lindert, 20 November 2017

There has been a blossoming of research into fiscal incidence by income class. This column combines century-long histories for Britain and South American countries with previous research to offer a global history of government income redistribution. Contrary to some allegations, the shift towards progressivity in government budgets over the last 100 years has not been reversed since the 1970s. The rise in inequality since the 1970s therefore appears to owe nothing to a net shift government redistribution toward the rich.

Filip Novokmet, Thomas Piketty, Gabriel Zucman, 09 November 2017

Russia has undergone a dramatic economic and political transformation since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1990-1991, yet the consequences on the distribution of income and wealth are not very well documented and understood. This column attempts to combine the various available data sources in order to provide consistent series on the accumulation and distribution of income and wealth in Russia from the Soviet period until the present day.

Giovanni Federico, Alessandro Nuvolari, Michelangelo Vasta, 06 November 2017

The origins of the Italian north–south economic divide have always been controversial. This column argues that using real wages in the 19th century, rather than output data, sheds new light on this debate. At unification, there was already a significant gap between real wages in the north and continental south, which widened as the north-west industrialised. The main driver of the growth of real wages in this period was human capital formation.

Sergei Guriev, Danny Leipziger, Jonathan D. Ostry, 17 October 2017

Globalisation and technological change present policymakers with tremendous challenges in sustaining benefits while containing the dislocations and polarisation that are plaguing many countries. This column argues that the answer is not to roll back these forces, but rather to redouble efforts to make globalisation genuinely inclusive. This involves thinking hard about the design and rules governing globalisation itself, including with respect to finance, but also with respect to trade. It also necessitates a recalibration of national economic policies that affect who benefits and who pays, and a host of complementary policies to mitigate exclusion and allow citizens to bounce back when dislocations occur.

Stéphane Bonhomme, Laura Hospido, 04 September 2017

The link between the rise in unemployment and the housing market in the US during the Great Recession is well documented. This column shows that in the case of Spain, the rise and fall in demand for construction workers following developments within the housing market had a big impact earnings inequality as well as employment. While there has been no apparent trend in the recent evolution of earnings inequality in Spain, countercyclical fluctuations have been substantial, with the construction sector playing a key role in this.

Kaushik Basu, Parikshit Ghosh, 20 June 2017

Aart Kraay, Roy Van der Weide, 15 August 2017

Current approaches to measuring top and bottom incomes cannot track the fortunes of the same group of individuals over time. This column addresses this shortcoming by developing a new method for measuring income mobility. After accounting for mobility, the incomes of those who start out rich grow considerably more slowly, and incomes of those who start out poor grow faster, compared to commonly reported growth rates of top and bottom incomes.

Benjamin Faber, Thibault Fally, 02 August 2017

A recent literature has documented the impact of firm heterogeneity on workers’ earnings. This column assesses firm heterogeneity in the context of its impact on households’ cost of living. Rich and poor households source their consumption differently, and are therefore impacted differently by asymmetries in heterogeneous firms. An analysis suggests that moderate trade liberalisation could lead to a 1.5-2.5% lower cost-of-living inflation in retail consumption for the richest 20% of US households compared to the poorest 20%.

Carol Graham, 28 July 2017

Despite the long-held belief that high levels of inequality in the US signal future opportunity, a number of studies suggest that this is no longer the reality. This column examines trends in inequality from the perspective of well-being and focuses on non-economic aspects of welfare, including hope. The results reveal stark differences across people, races, and places in the US. Poor minorities – and blacks in particular – are much more hopeful than poor whites, while urban places are more hopeful than are rural ones, as are places with higher levels of diversity.

Thomas Piketty, Li Yang, Gabriel Zucman, 20 July 2017

Between 1978 and 2015, China moved being from a poor, underdeveloped country to the world’s leading emerging economy. But relatively little is known about how the distribution of income and wealth within the country changed over this period. This column presents the first systematic estimates of the level and structure of China’s national wealth since the beginning of the market reform process. The national wealth-income ratio increased from 350% in 1978 to 700% in 2015, driven mainly by the increase of private wealth.

Olle Hammar, Daniel Waldenström, 03 July 2017

Recent studies have analysed trends in global income inequality, but for most people in the world, labour earnings represent the vast majority of their income. This column uses a new global database on occupational earnings since 1970 to examine trends in earnings inequality between countries’ high- and low- earners, between countries, and between occupational groups. Global earnings inequality has fallen over the past half-century, and so has inequality within occupations, with main equalisation in the late 1990s and 2000s.

Johanna Wallenius, Max Groneck, 01 June 2017

At the individual level, social security is a strong source of redistribution from rich to the poor in the US, due to the concavity of the pension formula. But this column argues that spousal and survivor benefits, which are important sources of retirement income for women, introduce regressive redistributive elements to social security and also provide incentives for even highly educated women to stay at home if they are married to a high earner. A means-tested minimum benefit would simultaneously increase overall labour supply and reduce inequality, compared to the current system.

Joshua Aizenman, Yothin Jinjarak, Jungsuk Kim, Donghyun Park, 08 January 2016

Daron Acemoğlu, Suresh Naidu, Pascual Restrepo, James Robinson, 24 May 2017

Gilles Duranton, Ejaz Ghani, Arti Grover Goswami, William Kerr, 26 May 2016

Branko Milanovic, 16 May 2017

The capital–income ratio continues to rise. This increases interpersonal inequality when three conditions are met (as they are in all rich economies today): the rate of return to capital outstrips that of income, income from capital is concentrated among the rich, and the income source that is less equally distributed is correlated with overall income. This column argues that the third condition is not inevitable, and that policies to share income from capital more equally would decrease overall inequality. We have tools to do this, but policymakers lack the political will.

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