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Income Inequality

FT Weekend: Glimpses of Unattainable Opulence

Sina Odugbemi's picture
Why do we consume the media that we do, especially the ones we rely on all the time? Many media scholars argue that we consume media because of their usefulness to us and the gratifications they bring. This is known as the uses-and-gratification paradigm. Says Alan M. Rubin:

The assumptions of uses and gratifications underscore the role of audience initiative and activity. Behavior is largely goal directed and purposive. People typically choose to participate and select media or messages from an array of communication alternatives in response to their expectations and desires. These expectations and desires emanate from, and are constrained by, personal traits, social context, and interaction. [i]

If this is true, and I believe it is, then the media you regularly consume says a lot about you, particularly your expectations and desires.

Inequality of opportunity and economic growth: A cross-country analysis

LTD Editors's picture

Income differences arise from many sources. While some kinds of inequality, caused by effort differences, might be associated with faster economic growth, other kinds, arising from unequal opportunities for investment, might be detrimental to economic progress.  A new World Bank study by Francisco H. G. Ferreira, Christoph Lakner, Maria Ana Lugo, and Berk Özler uses two new metadata sets, consisting of 118 household surveys and 134 Demographic and Health Surveys, to revisit the question of whether inequality is associated with economic growth and, in particular, to examine whether inequality of opportunity -- driven by circumstances at birth -- has a negative effect on subsequent growth. The results are suggestive but not robust: while overall income inequality is generally negatively associated with growth in the household survey sample, the study finds no evidence that this is due to the component associated with unequal opportunities.

Reviewing the Facts on Top Incomes and Inequality in Egypt

Paolo Verme's picture

One of the puzzling aspects about Egypt is that income inequality measured through household surveys before the revolution was very low compared to the perceptions of inequality and injustice voiced by the people of Egypt during the revolution. A recent book on Egypt has tried to explain this apparent mismatch and found several leads that could explain why both the data and the people of Egypt may be right. Household data in Egypt are of good quality and measure income inequality well relative to other comparable surveys worldwide and the people of Egypt had good reasons to complain about social injustice as real incomes declined, prices increased and jobs and opportunities were scarce before the revolution.

The Link Between Income Inequality and Public Services is Stronger than I Realized (Thanks to Emma Seery for Putting Me Straight)

Duncan Green's picture

Oxfam has been banging on to good effect recently about extreme global inequality in income and wealth. Over many years, we have also been making the case for universal health and education. It turns out the link between the two is stronger than I’d realized, according to ‘Working for the Many: Public Services fight Inequality’, a new paper published today.

We normally discuss inequality before and after tax (eg it’s progressive taxation that really brings Europe’s inequality down). But recent work published by the OECD and World Bank has put a monetary value on the ‘virtual income’ provided by public services. This produces some startling findings on inequality.

Public services mitigate the impact of skewed income distribution, and redistribute by putting ‘virtual income’ into everyone’s pockets. For the poorest, those on meagre salaries, though, this ‘virtual income’ can be as much as – or even more than – their actual income. On average, in OECD countries, public services are worth the equivalent of a huge 76 per cent of the post-tax income of the poorest group, and just 14 per cent of the richest. It is in the context of huge disparities of income that we see the true equalizing power of public services.

Redistribution and Growth: The MENA Perspective

Elena Ianchovichina's picture

Recently three IMF economists published a paper arguing that redistribution is in general pro-growth (Ostry et al. 2014). The paper caused a stir as it dismisses right-wing beliefs that redistribution hurts growth. However, even people sympathetic to the ideas of inclusive growth and equality of opportunity find this finding problematic. One reason is that the authors rely on a measure of redistribution that misrepresents the true cost of redistribution in an economy. Another has to do with the omission of factors that affect positively the income growth of the poor and vulnerable, such as employment.  This omission would exaggerate the importance of equality through redistribution as a source of growth and underplay the importance of structural transformation and investments directed towards sectors that use unskilled labor more intensively, and therefore have the potential to generate inclusive growth and productive employment for the poor segments of the population.

Is Inequality the Convenient Villain or a Misguided Obsession?

Jean-Pierre Chauffour's picture

Inequality is back in the news. In his 2014 State of the Union address, U. S. President Obama lamented that, “after four years of economic growth, corporate profits and stock prices have rarely been higher, and those at the top have never done better.  But average wages have barely budged.  Inequality has deepened.  Upward mobility has stalled.”   At the global scale, Oxfam is making the same point, noting in a recent report that the richest 85 people in the world own the same amount of wealth as the 3.5 billion bottom half of the Earth's population. Perhaps more surprising, the rich and powerful CEOs jetting to Davos earlier this year seemed to finally get it: capitalism cannot survive if income and wealth become concentrated in too few hands. Fighting inequality would therefore not only be the morally correct thing to do, it would also be smart economics.  And this is what a recent Staff Discussion Note from the IMF suggests: “inequality can undermine progress in health and education, cause investment-reducing political and economic instability, and undercut the social consensus required in the face of shocks, and thus tends to reduce the pace and durability of growth.”

‘Working for the Few’: Top New Report on the Links between Politics and Inequality

Duncan Green's picture

As the world’s self-appointed steering committee gathers in Davos, 2014 is already shaping up as a big year for inequality. The World Economic Forum’s ‘Outlook on the Global Agenda 2014’ ranks widening income disparities as the second greatest worldwide risk in the coming 12 to 18 months (Middle East and North Africa came top, since you ask).

So it’s great to see ‘Working for the Few’, a really excellent new Oxfam paper by Ricardo Fuentes and Nick Galasso, tackling an issue best summed up by US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis in the aftermath of the Great Depression, ‘We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of the few, but we cannot have both.’ i.e. the politics of inequality and redistribution.

The Brandeis quote is particularly relevant because this time really is different. After the 2008 global meltdown, we have not seen anything like the New Deal, in terms of redistribution or reform. The paper argues that this is because political capture by a small economic elite is much more complete this time around.

Inequality Isn’t Hopeless. But You Need a Plan

Jim Yong Kim's picture

DAVOS, Switzerland – When we talk about particularly difficult issues at the World Bank Group, I always ask my team a simple question: What’s the plan?

If they have a plan, the next question I ask is whether the plan is serious enough to match the scale of the problem. Here at the World Economic Forum at Davos, one of the main issues before us is an extraordinarily tough one – how do we reduce the growing income inequality around the world? Income inequality has grown to enormous proportions but my question to World Bank staff and folks here in Davos is the same: What’s the plan to lessen income inequality across the world?

Income inequality can appear to be an intractable problem. But the fact is we already know a lot about how economies can grow in a way that includes even the poorest. We need a plan to tackle inequality and we think there are at least five things that we can do right now that could help.

From Davos, A Plan to Fight Income Inequality

Jim Yong Kim's picture

DAVOS — The theme of this year's World Economic Forum here involves income inequality and how to close the wide gap between rich and poor. I think this is a smart choice for the meeting, which attracts some of the most powerful and wealthiest people in the world. But to battle income inequality, you need a serious plan. Watch this video from Davos to hear what we recommend as a smart plan of action.

Big Data Diving and US Intergenerational Income Mobility Hold Vital Lessons

Vamsee Kanchi's picture

Patterns of intergenerational income mobility in the United States reveal valuable lessons for economists and policy makers not just in this country, but also for the developing world, where successful efforts to promote shared prosperity and foster create better prospects for youth and children too often meet with frustration.

Raj Chetty, Professor of Economics at Harvard University lectured on this topic recently at the World Bank. For his talk, Chetty drew on recent research by him, Nathaniel Hendren, Patrick Kline and Emmanuel Saez. Chetty and team analyzed anonymous tax records on earnings of 40 million US children and their parents to gauge a child's chances of moving up the income distribution relative to his or her parents.