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.
Jason Furman, Friday, February 20, 2015
Kirill Shakhnov, Saturday, January 17, 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.
Loukas Karabarbounis, Brent Neiman, Tuesday, November 25, 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.
Olivier Coibion, Yuriy Gorodnichenko, Lorenz Kueng, John Silvia, Saturday, October 25, 2014
There are several conflicting channels through which monetary policy could affect the distribution of wealth, income, and consumption. This column argues that contractionary monetary policy raised inequality in the US, while expansionary monetary policy lowered it. This evidence stresses the need for monetary policy models that take into account heterogeneity across households. Current monetary policy models may significantly understate the welfare costs of zero-bound episodes.
Judith Niehues, Sunday, September 28, 2014
Income inequality is high in the US, but the support of social welfare programmes is low. In Europe, income inequality is low and the welfare states are generous. This column argues that this paradox is largely due to perceived inequality. Many Europeans believe that there is high inequality in their countries, justifying the need for redistributive policies. Americans, however, are less concerned with income differences and with respective redistributive state intervention.
Reto Foellmi, Isabel Martínez, Sunday, August 31, 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.
Coen Teulings, Sunday, June 15, 2014
Income inequality has increased worldwide in recent years. This column discusses the role of technological progress, globalisation, and the liberalisation of labour-market institutions in this growing inequality. The liberalisation of labour market institutions has made labour markets more flexible and created many jobs. But beyond a certain point, the net effect of further liberalisation might be negative for society.
Christoph Lakner , Branko Milanovic, Tuesday, May 27, 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.
Benedict Clements, David Coady, Ruud de Mooij, Sanjeev Gupta, Tuesday, April 15, 2014
The causes and consequences of rising inequality have stirred a lively debate on appropriate policy responses. This column reviews how governments have successfully used fiscal policy to address distributive concerns. It also examines the policy alternatives that countries can pursue in order to reduce income and wealth inequality at a minimum cost to efficiency. Such policies include exploitation of property taxes, reductions in tax deductions that favour upper-income groups, investing in increasing the human capital of low-income groups, and reforming social benefits.
Davide Furceri, Prakash Loungani, Thursday, February 13, 2014
Income inequality has been growing in many economies over the past two decades, and it is currently historically high. This column adds two new contributors to the popular explanations of increased inequality. Fiscal consolidations, especially those following the recent crisis, can increase inequality, mostly by affecting the long-term unemployment. A second source that leads to a persistent increase in inequality is capital account liberalisation. Therefore, the effects of these policies on inequality should be taken into account when deciding upon policy designs.
Thomas Piketty, Gabriel Zucman, Thursday, September 26, 2013
According to many measures, inequality has been increasing in the developed world and is now approaching prewar levels. Income inequality does not tell the whole story. This column documents the increase in the ratio of private wealth to national income. This macroeconomic change, precipitated by slowing GDP growth, exacerbates the problem of wealth inequality and makes the economy more susceptible to bubbles.
Augusto de la Torre, Julián Messina, Thursday, March 7, 2013
The last decade has seen unprecedented economic and social achievements in Latin America. This column investigates the relationship between changes in the labour market and the drop in income inequality across the continent. There is certainly room for more research to help us better understand Latin America’s spectacular decline in income inequality, but what is clear is that the good news is tempered by the fact that the specialisation of the region’s economies are relatively low in skill intensity and therefore productivity.
Joshua Aizenman, Yothin Jinjarak, Saturday, June 30, 2012
Might income inequality make structural adjustments more difficult? This column presents data from 50 countries in 2007, in 2009, and in 2011, and finds that higher income inequality in the country is associated with a lower tax base, less fiscal space, and higher sovereign spreads.
Emmanuel Saez, Stefanie Stantcheva, Thomas Piketty, Monday, December 5, 2011
As protesters occupy Wall Street and cities around the world decrying the disparity between the top 1% and the remaining 99%, CEPR DP8675 investigates the link between skyrocketing inequality and top tax rates in OECD countries. The authors find a strong correlation between tax cuts for the highest earners and increases in the income share of the top 1% since 1975.
Uwe Sunde, Florian Jung, Monday, May 30, 2011
This paper revisits the seminal correlation first noted by SM Lipset in 1959: Almost without exception, stable democracies are economically well-developed. Why? The authors argue that democracy will stick only in fairly balanced economic environments. Distribution appears to matter for the longevity of democracy.
Indermit Gill, Saturday, October 9, 2010
Economic development is not evenly spread, and in some places it is still yet to arrive. This column looks at suggestions from the World Bank’s World Development Report to combat this inequality. It argues that economic growth will be unbalanced, and to try to spread it out – too much, too far, or too soon – is to discourage it. Instead, policymakers should focus on economic integration.
Nora Lustig, Luis Lopez-Calva, Sunday, June 6, 2010
Income inequality in Latin America has declined steadily in recent years, after rising throughout the 1990s. This column presents one of the first attempts to understand why, exploring the forces behind a diminished earnings gap and increased government transfers. It says that that further redistribution would benefit both equality and growth.
Bilal Habib, Ambar Narayan, Sergio Olivieri, Carolina Sanchez-Paramo, Monday, April 19, 2010
A shortage of real-time data hinders evaluations of the impact of the global crisis on developing countries. This column uses a “microsimulation” approach to assess the poverty and distributional effects in Bangladesh, Mexico, and the Philippines. It finds that poverty will increase by well over a million, and that the crisis has been hardest for middle-income households.
Ann Harrison, Avraham Ebenstein, Margaret McMillan, Shannon Phillips, Monday, August 31, 2009
This column revisits the heated debate over international trade, offshoring, and US wages using new data. It says that increased international exchange with low-income countries has depressed US wages. That effect only arose during the 1990s, suggesting a different conclusion about trade, offshoring, and income inequality than the previous round of debate.
Lawrence F. Katz, Friday, May 15, 2009
Lawrence Katz of Harvard University talks to Romesh Vaitilingam about his book (co-authored with Claudia Goldin), The Race between Education and Technology, a history of US economic inequality and the roles of technological change and the pace of educational advance in affecting the wage structure. The interview was recorded at the American Economic Association meetings in San Francisco in January 2009.