Martin Ravallion, 23 December 2015

With the new UN Global Goals agreed this autumn, the issue of poverty is at the top of global agenda. This column presents a new book that reviews past and present debates on poverty in both rich and poor countries. The challenges ahead are in assuring the political will and administrative capabilities to implement and enforce sound anti-poverty policies, and in adapting them to differing circumstances and evolving knowledge about their efficacy.

Stefania Albanesi, Claudia Olivetti, María Prados, 21 December 2015

The gender gap in the workplace persists, affecting women in professional and managerial occupations the most. This column looks at the gender gap among top executives at Standard & Poor’s firms and suggests that performance-related pay schemes should be better scrutinised. Increasing transparency of an executive’s compensation relative to others in similar positions might go some way towards mitigating gender pay inequality for top executives.

Facundo Alvaredo, Tony Atkinson, Salvatore Morelli, 08 December 2015

The concentration of personal wealth has received a lot of attention since the publication of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century. This column investigates the UK and finds wealth distribution to be highly concentrated. The data seem to suggest that the top wealth share has increased in the UK over the first decade of this century. 

Lucas Chancel, Thomas Piketty, 01 December 2015

The COP21 conference faces a severe problem when it comes to funding climate adaptation in developing countries. This column examines novel strategies to increase the funding. The strategies are based on high individual carbon emitters wherever they are in the world, rather than according to the responsibilities of high-emitting countries. To this end, a global distribution of individual income and CO2e emissions is constructed. 

Guido Alfani, Wouter Ryckbosch, 06 November 2015

Thomas Piketty and others have prompted renewed interest in understanding long-term patterns of inequality. This column presents evidence from pre-industrial Europe. Inequality rose even during the success stories of early modern Europe, but it can hardly have been the sole requisite for growth. In both economic history and today’s economic theory, the idea of a universal trade-off between growth and inequality needs to be replaced by stronger attention to social processes and institutional developments.

Facundo Alvaredo, Tony Atkinson, Salvatore Morelli, 06 September 2015

The concentration of personal wealth is now receiving a great deal of attention – after having been neglected for many years. One reason is the growing recognition that, in seeking explanations for rising income inequality, we need to look not only at wages and earned income but also at income from capital, particularly at the top of the distribution. In this paper, we use evidence from existing data sources to attempt to answer three questions: (i) what is the share of total personal wealth that is owned by the top 1 per cent, or the top 0.1 per cent? (ii) is wealth much more unequally distributed than income? (iii) is the concentration of wealth at the top increasing over time? The main conclusion of the paper is that the evidence about the UK concentration of wealth post-2000 is seriously incomplete and significant investment is necessary if we are to provide satisfactory answers to the three questions.

Melissa Kearney, Phillip Levine, 16 July 2015

Early childhood education has important effects on the academic readiness and ultimate life chances of children. This column examines how the introduction of the educational television show Sesame Street in the US affected primary school outcomes for disadvantaged children. Those from counties that had better access to the broadcast had superior educational outcomes through their early school years. These effects were particularly pronounced for black, non-Hispanic children, and those living in economically disadvantaged areas. The extremely low cost per child of such interventions make them ideal for addressing educational inequality in childhood.

Matthew Kahn, Cong Sun, Siqi Zheng, 08 July 2015

China’s cities suffer from extremely high levels of air pollution, and Chinese consumers spend more than $US100 million on anti-smog products per year. Using recent internet sales data, this column explores how investing in such self-protection products varies for consumers with different income brackets. The urban poor are shown to be less likely to engage in this health-improving strategy. This suggests that cross-sectional income comparisons understate lifetime inequality.

Branko Milanovic, 06 May 2015

Our level of income is unarguably dependent on where we live in the world. But evidencing this is tricky. This column presents a model that explains global income variability using one variable only – where you live. The results suggest that we might want to reassess how we think about both economic migration and global inequality of opportunity.

Roland Bénabou, Davide Ticchi , Andrea Vindigni, 19 April 2015

History offers many examples of the recurring tensions between science and organized religion, but as part of the paper’s motivating evidence we also uncover a new fact: in both international and cross-state U.S. data, there is a significant and robust negative relationship between religiosity and patents per capita. Three long-term outcomes emerge. First, a "Secularization" or "Western-European" regime with declining religiosity, unimpeded science, a passive Church and high levels of taxes and transfers. Second, a "Theocratic" regime with knowledge stagnation, extreme religiosity with no modernization effort, and high public spending on religious public goods. In-between is a third, "American" regime that generally (not always) combines scientific progress and stable religiosity within a range where religious institutions engage in doctrinal adaptation.

Juan Carluccio, Denis Fougère, Erwan Gautier, 14 April 2015

International trade has significant effects on domestic labour demand. It opens up new markets for export, but also creates opportunities for off-shoring. This column presents the results of a study on trade, wages and collective bargaining using data on French manufacturing firms. Both exporting and offshoring are found to have positive effects on wages, with collective bargaining agreements, particularly those at the firm-level, seeing greater wage gains for all types of worker.

Trevon Logan, John Parman, 09 March 2015

Racial disparities in socioeconomic conditions remain a major policy issue throughout the world. This column applies a new neighbour-based measure of residential segregation to US census data from 1880 and 1940. The authors find that existing measures understate the extent of segregation, and that segregation increased in rural as well as urban areas. The dramatic decline in opposite-race neighbours during the 20th century may help to explain the persistence of racial inequality in the US.

Alan Auerbach, Kevin Hassett, 03 March 2015

Piketty's justification for his proposed wealth tax relies on the notion that the rate of return on capital exceeds economic growth. This column challenges this basis, arguing that it fails to account for risk. The authors also examine the relative merits of a consumption tax, which may be more valid.

Jason Furman, 20 February 2015

The US economy has strengthened considerably in recent years, presenting an opportunity to address the 40-year stagnation in incomes for the middle class. This column provides historical and international context for the key factors affecting middle-class incomes: productivity growth, labour force participation, and income inequality. It also outlines President Obama’s approach to economic policies – what he terms “middle-class economics” – which is designed to improve all three.

Jean-Marie Grether, Nicole Mathys, Caspar Sauter, 31 January 2015

Spatial inequalities in territorial-based greenhouse emissions matter in terms of regulation, both at the international and subnational levels. This column decomposes these inequalities worldwide for the two major greenhouse gases over the period 1970–2008. Within-country inequalities are larger, and rising, while between-country inequalities are smaller and falling. Moreover, social tensions arising from the discrepancy between the distribution of emissions and the distribution of damages appear to be larger within than between countries, and larger for carbon dioxide than for methane.

Kirill Shakhnov, 17 January 2015

The rapid growth of the US financial sector has driven policy debate on whether it is socially desirable. This column examines the trade-off between finance and entrepreneurship, and links the growth of finance to rising wealth inequality. Although financial intermediation helps allocate capital efficiently, people choosing a career in finance do not internalise the negative effect on the pool of talented entrepreneurs. This mechanism can explain the simultaneous growth of wealth inequality and finance in the US, and why more unequal countries have larger financial sectors.

Enrico Minelli, 19 December 2014

Growth and inequality are back at the centre of the economic debate. This column presents a framework for interpreting Thomas Piketty’s data based on Paul Romer’s model of endogenous growth. Two balanced growth regimes are possible in this framework: one (‘merit’) with a low capital–output ratio, a high interest rate, and high growth; and another (‘rent’) with a higher capital–output ratio, a somewhat lower interest rate, and much lower growth. An increase in the returns to physical capital accumulation compared to innovation could explain a shift from ‘merit’ to ‘rent’.

Branko Milanovic, Roy Van der Weide, 29 November 2014

A breakthrough in understanding the link between growth and inequality came from ‘unpacking’ inequality – looking at inequality measures for different segments of the population rather than just an aggregate measure. This column presents novel research that also ‘unpacks’ growth, investigating the impact of inequality on growth for different groups across the income distribution. Inequality toward the lower end of the distribution hinders growth for the poor, but not for the rich.

Loukas Karabarbounis, Brent Neiman, 25 November 2014

The share of compensation to labour in gross value added has declined in recent decades for most countries and industries around the world. Recent work has also used the share of compensation to labour in net value added as a proxy for inequality. This column discusses that gross and net labour shares have declined together for most countries since 1975 – an outcome consistent with the worldwide decline in the relative price of investment goods.

David Dollar, Tatjana Kleineberg, Aart Kraay, 19 November 2014

Concerns about inequality are at the forefront of many policy debates. While inequality has increased in many countries over the past few decades, in others it has decreased. This column uses data from 117 countries over the past four decades to investigate the importance of such changes in inequality, as well as of overall economic growth. Whereas inequality changes in most countries have been small, differences in overall growth performance have been large. Policymakers should therefore be careful not to undermine growth in the quest for greater equality. 



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