Inequality in the US – Part 2
This is the second part of our lit review on inequality in the US. Let me start by highlighting a book that I started reading called, Capital in the 21st Century, by Thomas Piketty.
Synopsis via Amazon – What are the grand dynamics that drive the accumulation and distribution of capital? Questions about the long-term evolution of inequality, the concentration of wealth, and the prospects for economic growth lie at the heart of political economy. But satisfactory answers have been hard to find for lack of adequate data and clear guiding theories. In his lecture, Thomas Piketty analyzes a unique collection of data in twenty countries, ranging as far back as the eighteenth century, to uncover key economic and social patterns. His findings are raising issues for the next generation of thought about wealth and inequality. Piketty shows that modern economic growth and the diffusion of knowledge have allowed us to avoid inequalities on the apocalyptic scale predicted by Karl Marx. But we have not modified the deep structures of capital and inequality as much as we thought in the optimistic decades following World War II. The main driver of inequality – the tendency of returns on capital to exceed the rate of economic growth – today threatens to generate extreme inequalities that stir discontent and undermine democratic values. But economic trends are not acts of God. Political action has curbed dangerous inequalities in the past and may do so again.
You can learn about the book via these book reviews (from all sides of the inequality debate).
Also take a look at this video: Thomas Piketty Lecture On Inequality @ Max Plank Institute
Moving on to today’s curated readings I recommend starting with this post by Michael Pettis – of Credit Writedowns -comparing and contrasting the pros and cons of income inequality.
Next take a look at this Video: Does Income Inequality Have A Good Side – via PBS
The Myth of Increasing Income Inequality – by Roth – Via Manhattan Institute – President Obama’s new fiscal year 2013 budget, with its proposed tax-rate hikes, reflects the misguided assumption that income inequality in the U.S. has increased in recent years. Populist cries for redistribution as a means to remedy this purported inequality have gained currency in both the press and in the public imagination.1 This paper, based on an original analysis of U.S. Labor Department data, concludes that inequality as measured by per capita spending is no greater today than in it was in the 1980s
Redistribution, Inequality, & Growth – by Berg, Ostry, & Tsangarides – via IMF – Economists are increasingly focusing on the links between rising inequality and the fragility of growth. Narratives include the relationship between inequality, leverage and the financial cycle, which sowed the seeds for crisis; and the role of political-economy factors (especially the influence of the rich) in allowing financial excess to balloon ahead of the crisis. In earlier work, we documented a multi-decade cross-country relationship between inequality and the fragility of economic growth. Our work built on the tentative consensus in the literature that inequality can undermine progress in health and education, cause investment-reducing political and economic instability, and undercut the social consensus required to adjust in the face of shocks, and thus that it tends to reduce the pace and durability of growth. So what does the historical evidence say? First, more unequal societies tend to redistribute more. It is thus important in understanding the growth-inequality relationship to distinguish between market and net inequality. Second, lower net inequality is robustly correlated with faster and more durable growth, for a given level of redistribution. These results are highly supportive of our earlier work And third, redistribution appears generally benign in terms of its impact on growth; only in extreme cases is there some evidence that it may have direct negative effects on growth. Thus the combined direct and indirect effects of redistribution—including the growth effects of the resulting lower inequality—are on average pro-growth.
Is The United States Still A Land of Opportunity? Recent Trends in Intergenerational Mobility – by Chetty, Hendren, Kline, Saez, & Turner – We present new evidence on trends in intergenerational mobility in the U.S. using administrative earnings records. We find that percentile rank-based measures of intergenerational mobility have remained extremely stable for the 1971-1993 birth cohorts. For children born between 1971 and 1986, we measure intergenerational mobility based on the correlation between parent and child income percentile ranks. For more recent cohorts, we measure mobility as the correlation between a child’s probability of attending college and her parents’ income rank. We also calculate transition probabilities, such as a child’s chances of reaching the top quintile of the income distribution starting from the bottom quintile. Based on all of these measures, we find that children entering the labor market today have the same chances of moving up in the income distribution (relative to their parents) as children born in the 1970s. However, because inequality has risen, the consequences of the “birth lottery” – the parents to whom a child is born – are larger today than in the past.
Has Consumption Inequality Mirrored Income Inequality? – by Aguiar & Bils – Abstract via NBER – We revisit to what extent the increase in income inequality over the last 30 years has been mirrored by consumption inequality. We do so by constructing two alternative measures of consumption expenditure, using data from the Consumer Expenditure Survey (CE). We first use reports of active savings and after tax income to construct the measure of consumption implied by the budget constraint. We find that the consumption inequality implied by savings behavior largely tracks income inequality between 1980 and 2007. Second, we use a demand system to correct for systematic measurement error in the CE’s expenditure data. Specifically, we consider trends in the relative expenditure of high income and low income households for different goods with different income (total expenditure) elasticities. Our estimation exploits the difference in the growth rate of luxury consumption inequality versus necessity consumption inequality. This “double-differencing,” which we implement in a a regression framework, corrects for mis-measurement that can systematically vary over time by good and income group. This second exercise indicates that consumption inequality has closely tracked income inequality over the period 1980-2007. Both of our measures show a significantly greater increase in consumption inequality than what is obtained from the CE’s total household expenditure data directly.
Misperceptions About the Magnitude and Timing of Changes in American Income Inequality – via Gordon- The rise in American inequality has been exaggerated both in magnitude and timing. Commentators lament the large gap between the growth rates of real median household income and of private sector productivity. This paper shows that a conceptually consistent measure of this growth gap over 1979 to 2007 is only one-tenth of the conventional measure. Further, the timing of the rise of inequality is often misunderstood. By some measures inequality stopped growing after 2000 and by others inequality has not grown since 1993. This cessation of inequality’s secular rise in 2000 is evident from the growth of Census mean vs. median income, and in the income share of the top one percent of the income distribution. The income share of the 91st to 95th percentile has not increased since 1983, and the income ratio of the 90th to 10th percentile has barely increased since 1986. Further, despite a transient decline in labor’s income share in 2000-06, by mid-2009 labor’s share had returned virtually to the same value as in 1983, 1991, and 2001. Recent contributions in the inequality literature have raised questions about previous research on skill-biased technical change and the managerial power of CEOs. Directly supporting our theme of prior exaggeration of the rise of inequality is new research showing that price indexes for the poor rise more slowly than for the rich, causing most empirical measures of inequality to overstate the growth of real income of the rich vs. the poor. Further, as much as two-thirds of the post-1980 increase in the college wage premium disappears when allowance is made for the faster rise in the cost of living in cities where the college educated congregate and for the lower quality of housing in those cities. A continuing tendency for life expectancy to increase faster among the rich than among the poor reflects the joint impact of education on both economic and health outcomes, some of which are driven by the behavioral choices of the less educated.
In Defense of Citizens United – by McConnell – Abstract via SSRN – Citizens United v. FEC is one of the most reviled decisions of the Supreme Court in recent years. The President of the United States denounced it to the Justices’ faces at his 2011 State of the Union address. His 2008 opponent, John McCain, called it “the worst decision ever.” The Democratic Party is pledged to reverse it by constitutional amendment if necessary. Prominent newspapers attribute to it virtually every excess of the campaign finance system, whether or not the practices were authorized by the decision or would have been lawful even without it. It has become shorthand for corporate domination of politics. It has few defenders among legal scholars. I believe it is time for a more balanced evaluation.