Fabian Kindermann, Dirk Krueger, 15 November 2014

Optimal tax rates for the rich are a perennial source of controversy. This column argues that high marginal tax rates on the top 1% of earners can make society as a whole better off. Not knowing whether they would ever make it into the top 1%, but understanding it is very unlikely, households especially at younger ages would happily accept a life that is somewhat better most of the time and significantly worse in the rare event they rise to the top 1%.

Charles Goodhart, Philipp Erfurth, 03 November 2014

There has been a long-term downward trend in labour’s share of national income, depressing both demand and inflation, and thus prompting ever more expansionary monetary policies. This column argues that, while understandable in a short-term business cycle context, this has exacerbated longer-term trends, increasing inequality and financial distortions. Perhaps the most fundamental problem has been over-reliance on debt finance. The authors propose policies to raise the share of equity finance in housing markets; such reforms could be extended to other sectors of the economy.

Katharina Knoll, Moritz Schularick, Thomas Steger, 01 November 2014

House price fluctuations take centre stage in recent macroeconomic debates, but little is known about their long-run evolution. This column presents new house price indices for 14 advanced economies since 1870. Real house prices display a pronounced hockey-stick pattern over the past 140 years. They stayed constant from the 19th to the mid-20th century, but rose strongly in the second half of the 20th century. Sharply increasing land prices, not construction costs, were the key driver of this trend.

Emmanuel Saez, Gabriel Zucman, 28 October 2014

Wealth inequality in the US has followed a U-shaped evolution over the last century – there was a substantial democratisation of wealth from the Great Depression to the late 1970s, followed by a sharp rise in wealth inequality. This column discusses new evidence on the concentration of wealth in the US. Growing wealth disparity is fuelled by increases in both income and saving rate inequalities between the haves and the have nots.

Daron Acemoğlu, Gino Gancia, Fabrizio Zilibotti, 30 September 2014

Offshoring of production can have a deep impact on the wages and welfare of workers with different abilities through its effect on technological progress. This column argues that, when labour is sufficiently cheap abroad, firms have incentives to offshore low-skill tasks and invest in skill-biased technologies at home. Over time, however, offshoring raises foreign wages. This increases demand for all firms and makes innovations complementing low-skill workers more profitable. As a result, offshoring can eventually lead to higher wages for everybody and less inequality.

Joanne Lindley, Steven McIntosh, 21 September 2014

Individuals who work in the finance sector enjoy a significant wage advantage. This column considers three explanations: rent sharing, skill intensity, and task-biased technological change. The UK evidence suggests that rent sharing is the key. The rising premium could then be due to changes in regulation and the increasing complexity of financial products creating more asymmetric information.

Avner Offer, 19 September 2014

Victory in World War I relied on three types of energy: renewable energy for food and fodder, fossil energy, and high explosive. This column argues that the Allies had a clear advantage in manpower, coal, and agriculture, but not enough for a quick decision. Mobilisation in continental economies curtailed food production, occasionally to a critical level. Technical competition was a matter of capacity for innovation, not of particular breakthroughs. Coercive military service and rationing of scarce energy and food had egalitarian consequences that continued after the war.

Reto Foellmi, Isabel Z. Martínez, 31 August 2014

Switzerland has had consistently low tax rates and a remarkably stable income distribution, although in the last 20 years the share of top incomes has risen. This column documents that the top 0.01%’s share doubled, meaning Switzerland is similar to European countries in terms of the top 1%’s income share, but closer to the US for higher top incomes. Labour incomes have grown in importance among top income earners. At the same time, however, top incomes have exhibited large and possibly increasing variations over the business cycle.

Jesper Roine, Henry Ohlsson, Daniel Waldenström, 08 August 2014

The extent to which lifetime incomes are determined by inherited wealth is a politically sensitive issue, but long-run evidence on this question is limited. This column presents evidence on Swedish inheritance flows since the early 19th century. Despite a long history of aristocracy, accumulated capital was small relative to income in pre-industrial Sweden. In more recent times, Sweden stands out as a country where the return of capital has not automatically translated into a return of inherited wealth.

Maria Bas, Vanessa Strauss-Kahn, 14 July 2014

The rise of trade in intermediate inputs is well documented, but its role in shaping domestic economies is not yet completely understood. This column presents evidence from French firms on the effects of importing intermediate inputs. Firms importing more varieties of intermediate inputs increased their productivity and exported more varieties. Foreign inputs from the most advanced economies have the strongest effect on firm productivity, but imported inputs from all countries help raise the number of export varieties.

André Carlos Martínez, Aldo Musacchio, Martina Viarengo, 09 July 2014

Institutions are known to play a powerful and enduring role in countries’ divergent levels of economic development. This column presents evidence that institutions matter for within-country inequality, too. In Brazil, changes in export prices and export tax revenues led to an increase in education spending in states that experienced commodity booms, which increased the number of schools and improved educational outcomes such as literacy rates. However, the effect was limited in states where slavery was predominant in colonial times.

Kerem Cosar, Nezih Guner, James Tybout, 07 July 2014

Trade liberalisations are often accompanied by labour market reforms, making it difficult to isolate their effects. This column discusses the effects of trade liberalisation, globalisation, and labour-market reforms on the Colombian labour market. Reduced trade frictions increased cross-firm wage inequality and shifted the firm-size distribution rightward, with offsetting effects on overall wage inequality. Average income increased, but the gains were concentrated among employees of large, productive firms with access to export markets. Greater trade openness also increased job turnover.

Odran Bonnet, Pierre-Henri Bono, Guillaume Chapelle, Étienne Wasmer, 30 June 2014

Thomas Piketty’s claim that the ratio of capital to national income is approaching 19th-century levels has fuelled the debate over inequality. This column argues that Piketty’s claim rests on the recent increase in the price of housing. Other forms of capital are, relative to income, at much lower levels than they were a century ago. Moreover, it is rents – not house prices – that should matter for the dynamics of wealth inequality, and rents have been stable as a proportion of national income in many countries.

Per Krusell, Tony Smith, 01 June 2014

Thomas Piketty’s new book has been widely praised for its empirical contribution, but his prediction of rising inequality rests on economic theory. This column argues that Piketty’s pessimistic forecast is based on an extreme – and unrealistic – assumption about households’ saving behaviour. According to standard theory, the wealth–income ratio would increase only modestly as growth falls, so declining growth would not be a powerful force for generating high inequality.

Christoph Lakner, Branko Milanovic, 27 May 2014

Since 1988, rapid growth in Asia has lifted billions out of poverty. Incomes at the very top of the world income distribution have also grown rapidly, whereas median incomes in rich countries have grown much more slowly. This column asks whether these developments, while reducing global income inequality overall, might undermine democracy in rich countries.

Anish Tailor, Nicolas Véron, 21 May 2014

The European Parliamentary elections are conducted under rules that give voters power that varies with their nationality. This inequality is higher than in European and US national elections, as well as in large emerging-market democracies like Brazil, India, and Indonesia. Making the distribution more equal would be simple, but would require a change in the EU Treaties.

David Blanchflower, Stephen Machin, 12 May 2014

The pain of the UK’s Great Recession has been spread more evenly than previous downturns, with falling real wages across the distribution. This column asks why this happened, how it compares with the US experience, and what the prospects are for recovering lost wage gains.

Jeffrey Frankel, 29 April 2014

Awareness of inequality is rapidly rising. This column argues that commentators should focus on identifying the policies that are best suited to improving income distributions efficiently, and the politicians that support them. It is not sufficient to sound the alarm about inequality and the political reach of the super-rich.

Amparo Castelló-Climent, Rafael Doménech, 23 April 2014

Most developing countries have made a great effort to eradicate illiteracy. As a result, the inequality in the distribution of education has been reduced by more than half from 1950 to 2010. However, inequality in the distribution of income has hardly changed. This column presents evidence from a new dataset on human capital inequality. The authors find that increasing returns to education, globalisation, and skill-biased technological change can explain why the fall in human capital inequality has not been sufficient to reduce income inequality.

Jonathan D. Ostry, Andrew Berg, Charalambos Tsangarides, 06 March 2014

Inequality has the potential to undermine growth. However, greater redistribution requires higher tax rates, which reduce incentives to work and save. Moreover, the evidence that inequality is bad for growth might simply reflect the fact that more unequal societies choose to redistribute more, and those efforts are antithetical to growth. This column presents evidence from a new dataset on pre- and post-tax inequality. The authors find that income equality is protective of growth, and that redistributive transfers on average have little if any direct adverse impact on growth.



CEPR Policy Research