Archive for the 'Inequality' Category

The Changing Rich

Larry Summers writes:

When Forbes compared its list of the wealthiest Americans in 1982 and 2012, it found that less than one tenth of the 1982 list was still on the list in 2012, despite the fact that a significant majority of members of the 1982 list would have qualified for the 2012 list if they had accumulated wealth at a real rate of even 4 percent a year. They did not, given pressures to spend, donate, or misinvest their wealth. In a similar vein, the data also indicate, contra Piketty, that the share of the Forbes 400 who inherited their wealth is in sharp decline.

Assortive Mating And Inequality

Via Matthew Yglesias:

Among college-educated people, in particular, the tendency is not so much to marry within your community as to marry within your educational cohort. Every once in a while you do see a college graduate married to a high school dropout (my parents, for example), but it’s quite rare. Since incomes are normally measured on the household level for statistical purposes, it matters quite a bit to big-picture national trends. In particular, “assortative mating” of this kind is a major driver of household-level income inequality.

How big? Jeremy Greenwood, Nezih Guner, Georgi Kocharkov, and Cezar Santos report in a new paper that if in 2005 the matching of husbands and wives had been random, the Gini coefficient—the most common summary measure of income inequality—would have been 0.34 rather than its real-world 0.43, a difference of almost 25 percent.

Quote Of The Day

“Three studies examined Americans’ perceptions of incomes and income inequality using a variety of criterion measures. Contrary to recent findings indicating that Americans underestimate wealth inequality, we found that Americans not only overestimated the rise of income inequality over time, but also underestimated average incomes. Thus, economic conditions in America are more favorable than people seem to realize. Furthermore, ideological differences emerged in two of these studies, such that political liberals overestimated the rise of inequality more than political conservatives. Implications of these findings for public policy debates and ideological disagreements are discussed. – Marginal Revolution

Indian International Student On The Most Surprising Things About America

A worthwhile post overall, but this one stood out:

An almost-classless society: I’ve noticed that most Americans roughly have the same standard of living. Everybody has access to ample food, everybody shops at the same supermarkets, malls, stores, etc. I’ve seen plumbers, construction workers and janitors driving their own sedans, which was quite difficult for me to digest at first since I came from a country where construction workers and plumbers lived hand to mouth.

Also, (almost) all sections of society are roughly equal. You’ll see service professionals owning iPhones, etc. as well. This may be wrong but part of it has to do with the fact that obtaining credit in this country is extremely easy. Anybody can buy anything, for the most part, except for something like a Maserati, obviously. As a result, most monetary possessions aren’t really status symbols. I believe that the only status symbol in America is your job, and possibly your educational qualifications.

Full post can be found here. This point reminded me of this post from economist Don Boudreaux. Both articles are wothwhile reads.

Marriage And Inequality

The connection:

Changes in family structure may explain anywhere from 15 to 40 percent of the increased inequality in recent decades. Readers may wonder why there is such a broad range of estimates. It depends on the time period examined, the income rungs examined, and assumptions about how much the absent parent might have brought into the household.

Mr. Western’s estimate that the rise in single parenthood explains 21 percent of the growth in inequality comes from a 2008 article in the American Sociological Review (with Christine Percheski and Deirdre Bloom). He examined the change from 1975 to 2005.

Gary Burtless looked at different years (1979 to 1996) for the European Economic Review but came up with the same figure: 21 percent. He also found that the increased tendency of educated people to marry each other accounted for another 13 percent of inequality’s growth.

The other estimate cited in the article comes from Robert Lerman of the Urban Institute. His unpublished analysis examines families with children at the 25th percentile and the 75th percentile. In 1975, the higher group had 2.16 times the income of the lower group. By 2008, it had risen to 3.09. Mr. Lerman estimated that 40 percent of that rise was the result of increasing single parenthood.

More can be found here. Economist Russ Roberts dives deeper into the data here.

Mobility Correlations

Commenting on the mobility/inequality link, Jim Manzi writes:

But what about all the other potential reasons, beyond what their Gini Coefficient was in 1985, for varying levels of social mobility between countries as diverse as Japan, France, and New Zealand?

The most obvious example is just the size of the countries. It’s at least plausible that much bigger countries contain more variety. In fact, if you do something as simple as recreate the Great Gatsby Curve, but use the population of each country as the X-axis, you get a very strong a statistical relationship (log-linear R2 = .64). Big countries have higher IGE. Call it the Moby Dick Curve.

Alternatively, we might see that some countries tend to specialize more than others.  As a practical example, part of the reason that a country like Finland can have so much equality and social mobility versus America might be that many more of the relatively poorer farmers who trade food for Finnish mobile phones live and reproduce in other countries.  If so, then we might see that if we replace the X-axis with exports as a % of GDP, there could be another statistically significant relationship with IGE. Check (R2 = .48).

Full article here.

Another Reason Why Income Inequality Has Increased

The New York Times writes:

 Professor Reardon is the author of a study that found that the gap in standardized test scores between affluent and low-income students had grown by about 40 percent since the 1960s, and is now double the testing gap between blacks and whites.

Full article here.

Why CEO Pay Is Rising

Atleast part of the reason is a dwindling supply:

In tech circles, the C-suite at a publicly traded company is no longer the be-all and end-all. Just look at the troubles Yahoo! (YHOO) and Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) have recently had finding new leaders. HP canned former SAP (SAP) Chief Executive Officer Léo Apotheker after just 11 months—then faced a barrage of criticism for replacing him with HP director and former EBay (EBAY) CEO Meg Whitman without bothering to look beyond its own boardroom.

Industry consolidation has created a small number of very large technology companies such as HP, Cisco (CSCO), and Microsoft (MSFT). They’ve stumbled in recent years as disruptive developments like the mobile revolution and the dash to the cloud shake the entire sector. As the job of leading these companies gets tougher, there are fewer talented leaders with the skills—and inclination—to do it. Rather than wait for high-profile CEOs such as Cisco’s John Chambers, Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer, and Research In Motion’s (RIMM) Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie to step down, many potential replacements have decamped for more exciting, and potentially more lucrative, gigs at startups or as investors. “This is the first time in tech history that you have this many companies with CEOs approaching 60 that don’t have any obvious successors,” says John Thompson, vice-chairman of recruiting firm Heidrick & Struggles (HSII).

Full story here.

Thoughts On Inequality

NYU economist Mario Rizzo gives a list of some of the questions and issues that serious people ought to consider on inequality:

  1. There seems to be very little concern, in the popular press, for the causes of unequal distribution. This includes, especially, the causes of the increasing unequal distribution over the past few decades. (However, recessions seem to be good for reducing income at the top.) Reformers should always consider causes before advising cures.
  2. There is a confounding of the results of a process that produces a distribution with the process itself. If person A steals money from person B, I object to the process (theft) first and foremost, and not to the resultant distribution of wealth. I really don’t care if it results in a more equal or less equal distribution.
  3. If there is something wrong with the rules-of-the-game, that is, the process that generates wealth and income distribution, let us attend to that. For example, if people are getting rich because of the warfare state or because the institutions they work for are bailed out by taxpayer money, let us address those issues.
  4. What exactly constitutes a more just distribution? The economist Paul Samuelson (and other amateur “moral philosophers”) used to equate, in his textbook, equity with greater income equality. (He famously, but ignorantly, said that the Soviet Union “chose” greater equity at the expense of efficiently – but nevertheless they would surpass us in wealth soon, anyway.)
  5. Justice does not simply imply equality. Sometimes it implies equality and sometimes inequality (as when the criminal gets his punishment, but the rest of us do not).
  6. Is it important that the positive entitlement to resources must be bought with the effort of others who might believe they have better uses for their money?
  7. Why should the hierarchy of values that emerges out a political system — based on favors, special interests, power-plays, (rationally) ignorant voters, self-interested politicians, and people much less moral than you and me – dominate  over my and your moral judgments?
  8. Do the putative moral claims of the “poor” stop at the water’ edge? Given that the poor of the US are rich by world standards, what kind of objective morality of distributive justice allows that “our” poor get preference over, say, North Korea’s poor? Do we have a tribal morality?
  9. To what extent are the commentators (law professors and economists especially included) trying to publicly signal their “goodness” by using their technical skills to come up with schemes that pander to unthought-out popular prejudices. After all, how much respect from the general public can academics get by coming up with some theorem on the quasi-transitivity of preferences, or what not?
  10. Last, but not least, do the redistributioners have any idea how the so-called welfare state works in practice? Do they know how the state uses one hand to make the poor poorer (unseen) and uses the other hand to help them out (seen)? Do they see the coming bankruptcy of the welfare state?

Full post can be found here.

Quote Of The Day

“Here is a fact that you might not have heard from the Occupy Wall Street crowd: The incomes at the top of the income distribution have fallen substantially over the past few years. According to the most recent IRS data, between 2007 and 2009, the 99th percentile income (AGI, not inflation-adjusted) fell from $410,096 to $343,927. The 99.9th percentile income fell from $2,155,365 to $1,432,890. During the same period, median income fell from $32,879 to $32,396. ” — Greg Mankiw, Professor of economics at Harvard University

The Lesson Of Steve Jobs

Economist Russ Roberts writes:

The death of Steve Jobs is a useful reminder of the fact that much wealth is not winner-take-all but winner makes everybody better off. Steve Jobs’s estate is estimated to be something between $6 billion and $7 billion. About 2/3 of that is Disney stock he received when Disney acquired Pixar. The rest if Apple stock. This is clearly a fraction, maybe a small fraction of the wealth Jobs created for the rest of us.Yes, he made a lot of money. But he made it by making the rest of us better off. He didn’t take it from us. He shared it with us.

One reason that the top 1% only earned 8% of the income in the 1960′s vs. 20% now is that our economy has changed in ways that are good for all of us. I pause here to mention the obvious–the bottom 99% can be better off with a smaller share of the pie if the pie is getting sufficiently bigger which is what has happened over the last 50 years. But the top 1% gets a bigger share not because they are hoarding more of the pie. The top 1% gets a bigger share because the opportunity to create a lot of wealth for everyone has changed.

Think of it this way. The IBM Selectric was a wonderful improvement in the typewriter market. The people who created it and ran IBM made a lot of money from that improvement. And that’s nice. But improving the personal computer makes you a lot richer now than it did then. It creates more wealth. So the most creative people in technology today (Brin, Jobs, Page, Gates, Zuckerberg) make a lot more money than they did in 1960. That’s good.

Full post can be found here.

Quote Of The Day

“I have an even better argument against tax cuts for the rich. According to Bernstein’s logic, they don’t even work for the rich. If you look at the mean income for the top 20% of all families, it also shrinks between 1989 and 1992, grows between 1992 and 2000 and falls between 2000 and 2010. So those tax cuts for the rich didn’t even help the rich. Kind of ruins the class warfare story, doesn’t it? (I hope to get some graphs up on this in a later post.) The same results hold for the top 5%. Data are here–use the numbers corrected for inflation. Maybe, just maybe, other factors than tax policy explain our financial well-being.” — Russ Roberts

Quote Of The Day

“Indeed, the share of top incomes coming from capital is much lower now than it has been historically. According to Emmanuel Saez, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, for the richest Americans — those in the top 0.01 percent of the distribution — the percentage of income derived from capital fell to 25 percent in 2004 from 70 percent in 1929. If your image of the typical rich person is someone who collects interest and dividend checks and spends long afternoons relaxing on his yacht, you are decades out of date. The leisure class has been replaced by the working rich.” — Greg Mankiw,  Harvard Economist in an old NY Times post responding to Buffett’s claims then

The Deregulation Era And Developing Countries

Lefties often label the era from the late 1970’s to today as the era of deregulation where wages stagnated, income inequality increased, and overall the rich got richer at the expense of the poor. They argue that we should go back to the economic era from roughly the end of WWII, to the late 1970’s. That was an era of unprecedented economic growth, rise in wages, and reduced inequality.

Now, there are various answers that could be given to such claims (see here, here, here and here for a few) but my favorite is to look at the ‘deregulation era’ from the eyes of poor people around the world. If your concern is the worlds truly poor – those living in absolute poverty – the ‘deregulation era’ is an absolute god sent.

Take Hans Rosling, who gave a Ted Talk on this very thing – showing how our preconceived notions of poor countries are extremely outdated, see here. He shows that many countries, especially in Asia, but also Latin America and Africa, that have been poor for so long are now quickly moving up the economic ladder. But this was in 2007, the leftist replies, surely it’s outdated, no?

But then a couple of prominent economists noticed the same thing. MIT’s Maxim Pinkovskiy and Columbia’s Xavier Sala-i-Martin published a paper showing:

The conventional wisdom that Africa is not reducing poverty is wrong. Using the methodology of Pinkovskiy and Sala-i-Martin (2009), we estimate income distributions, poverty rates, and inequality and welfare indices for African countries for the period 1970-2006. We show that: (1) African poverty is falling and is falling rapidly; (2) if present trends continue, the poverty Millennium Development Goal of halving the proportion of people with incomes less than one dollar a day will be achieved on time; (3) the growth spurt that began in 1995 decreased African income inequality instead of increasing it; (4) African poverty reduction is remarkably general: it cannot be explained by a large country, or even by a single set of countries possessing some beneficial geographical or historical characteristic. All classes of countries, including those with disadvantageous geography and history, experience reductions in poverty. In particular, poverty fell for both landlocked as well as coastal countries; for mineral-rich as well as mineral-poor countries; for countries with favorable or with unfavorable agriculture; for countries regardless of colonial origin; and for countries with below- or above-median slave exports per capita during the African slave trade.

The authors explain their findings here. The New Republic as well as Blue Matter blog comment here and here.

Matthew Yglesias quotes another study from the World Bank:

Just over 25% of the world’s population (1.4B people), lived in extreme poverty in 2005, according to a report released this month from the World Bank (”Global Economic Prospects 2009: Long-term prospects and poverty forecasts“). This has fallen from 42% in 1990, when the bank first published its global poverty estimates. All regions of the world have seen gains. Rapid economic growth east Asia in particular has led to a dramatic decline in global poverty. In China the share of the population getting by on $1.25 a day, or less, fell from 60% to 16%.

The Economist magazine has more here.

Matthew Yglesias later comments:

Amidst all these problems in the United States, it’s worth recalling that for much of the world these are actually the best of times…

American politics is, naturally, going to remain focused primarily on the problems of Americans. But ultimately the problems of poor people in the developing world are much more severe than any of our problems, and growth in poor countries is extremely good news.

Even the Huffington Post picked up on the drastic change:

In the 1990s, “people could only feed themselves, and some even starved. Children could not afford to go to school, and many could not even finish primary school,” said Liu Jiandang, a 41-year-old former farmer. “Now, we’ve got paved roads, new houses, phones and vehicles. I run a hotel that can host 20 to 30 tourists and some rooms have TV sets, air conditioners, hot water and bathrooms.”

With her profits topping 50,000 yuan ($7,000) a year, Liu can afford to send her 19-year-old son to vocational college and her 10-year-old daughter to primary school. “Our lives are so much better than before,” she said.

Okay – you say, but surely the financial crisis has reversed most of these trends, right? The answer is no. According to Dani Rodrik, professor at Harvard Universities International Development program, writes:

For the first time ever, developing countries as a group grew have been growing faster than industrial countries. Not only that, as the figure makes clear, the growth differential between the two groups has been widening in favor of the poor countries.

And it isn’t just China, India, and a few countries that have been doing well. For a change, Africa and Latin America actually experienced some convergence with rich countries over the last decade.

Many analysts have projected these trends forward and predict rapid global growth, largely off the back of emerging and developing nations. In the words of a Citigroup report, “this time will be different.”

He provides this eye opening graph:

The Growth Of The Poor

Notice the dramatic turnaround, starting around the 1980’s and moving upwards quickly thereafter. This is all GREAT news from a developing countries perspective and it seems like the great recession hasn’t slowed it down!

What would the future look like if this trend is to continue? Tim Taylor gives the numbers:

To get a sense of the change, compare the rank order of the economies of the world in 2009 and 2050.  In 2009, the U.S. is the world’s largest economy. By 2050, U.S. economy will be about 2.5 times as large–and is projected to be in third place in absolute size, behind China and  India.  What other countries move up the rankings notably by 2050? Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia, Turkey, Nigeria, and Vietnam. To my 20th century mindset, some of those countries just don’t seem like global economic heavyweights. Time to start adjusting my mind to the coming realities.

More can be found on his blog post here.

The private sector is catching on too, as Alan Taylor, a Senior Adviser at Morgan Stanley wrote in Foreign Affairs magazine:

A broad range of economic figures suggest that emerging markets are catching up to developed markets. As the Great Recession fades, this trend is likely to continue. The emerging-market history of low growth and high volatility is fading, while developed markets are experiencing more instability and financial impairments. Emerging markets have decreased their debt-to-GDP ratios, even as developed markets, including the United States and some in Europe, are letting theirs rise. In a sign of convergence between emerging and developed markets, health and schooling levels in emerging-market countries are now comparable to those seen in developed markets around 1975, with the gap continuing to narrow. And average levels of political and economic freedom in emerging markets have also improved dramatically in the last two decades. Although emerging markets have not yet achieved parity with developed markets…they now appear more stable and better positioned to enjoy sustained growth than they did a generation ago.

Even Jay Ulfelder is convinced, he writes:

To my mind, the trends Alan Taylor identifies are the start of the big development story of the 21st century. After a century in which the global political economy was primarily characterized by the yawning gap in wealth and power between the so-called First and Third Worlds, that gap is finally narrowing. Economic growth is accelerating in countries long mired in a “poverty trap,” and the economic and political benefits of that trend are extending to more and more of the world’s human population. Hundreds of millions of people still live in abject poverty, under authoritarian rule, or both, but the share of the global population living in deep poverty is notably lower than it was just a couple of decades ago, and the economic takeoffs occurring in many long-poor countries suggest that trend is only broadening.

I leave you with a quote from a study on this very thing from the Brookings Institute (pdf) :

The greatest surprise, however, is the one taking place in Sub-Saharan Africa. Between 1980 and 2005, the region’s poverty rate had consistently hovered above 50 percent. Given the continent’s high population growth, its number of poor rose steadily. The current period is different. For the first time, Sub-Saharan Africa’s poverty rate has fallen below 50 percent. The total number of poor people in the region is falling too.

If you consider all humans of equal value, regardless of race or nationality, the ‘deregulation era’ has to be considered a great era and a positive change over previous periods of human history – and this is true, even assuming the worst case assumptions of the liberals and lefties of the world.

Update: More here, here and here(pdf).

Gender Inequality And The Plow

The Freakonomics blog has an interesting perspective:

From a pair of Harvard economists, Alberto Alesina and Nathan Nunn, and a UCLA business school professor, Paola Giuliano, comes this working paper (Abstract here and below; full version here) that tests the hypothesis that current gender role differences can be traced to shifting methods of agriculture, particularly the introduction of the plow, which required significant upper body strength, grip strength, and burst of power that favored men over women.

Some of their conclusions:

  • We find a strong and robust negative relationship between historical plough-use and unequal gender roles today. Traditional plough-use is positively correlated with attitudes reflecting gender inequality and negatively correlated with female labor force participation, female firm ownership, and female participation in politics.
  • We find that women from cultures that historically used the plough have lower rates of labor force participation in the US. This provides evidence that part of the importance of the plough arises through its impact on internal beliefs and values.

Full post here.

GDP and (Female) Median Income

Most of you are probably familiar with the GDP vs Median income graphs showing that since around the 1970’s, GDP has been growing faster than median income. This has lead to various theories as to why this is the case. Common explanations range from technology change, higher premiums for education, globalization, to the conspiracy Brenton Woods Accord. What all of these seem to fail to explain adequately is that if you look only at Female Median Income, GDP and Female Median Income both are rising equally. See picture below.

Keep this in mind next time someone offers a grand explanation for the supposedly “stagnant” wages.

Economist Alex Tabarrok, blogging at Marginal Revolution, has more here.