Wealth and income inequality have been falling
And that is bad! (Never reason from an income inequality decline.) Despite a recent rebound, equity prices are still down considerably from their peaks, and of course that in percentage terms is a larger loss for wealthier people. Here is one part of my latest Bloomberg column:
And it’s not as if people on the lower end of the income scale feel happier or more healthy because the wealthiest are now poorer. For most Americans, life goes on; their main economic concern is that high inflation will eat into potential wage gains.
Nor is it the case that the proletariat have taken hold of the reins of power and a new populist utopia is nigh. The very wealthy might make fewer political donations, but the influence of money on politics was overrated in the first place. It hardly seems like a new era of egalitarian redistribution. Instead, Western government budgets are fairly tight, and in the US in particular the set of plausible policy alternatives is likely to get more narrow.
For at least two decades, the attention given to rising income and wealth inequality was huge, among both policymakers and academics. Over the last decade, the attention given to falling income and wealth inequality has been tiny.
Perhaps our views end up biased, can you imagine that? And to close:
I am by no means convinced that this reduction in inequality will continue. Forthcoming technological advances will have unpredictable effects. But if the last decade proves to be an interlude, there is still a lesson: Maybe inequality wasn’t the problem in the first place. That’s why I’m not cheering at its decline, and why I suspect not everyone else is, either. The real challenge isn’t how to reduce the difference in wealth between the rich and the poor. It’s how to reduce poverty.
I thank Brian Chau and Matt Yglesias for relevant pointers, without implicating either one in my take.