Economic Inequality in the United States

By Lars Osberg | Go to book overview

3

ECONOMIC INEQUALITY

3.1 Introduction

Chapter 2 discussed the distribution of annual money income among family units and households but for many purposes this is an inadequate description of inequality. Economic inequality can be broadly conceived of as differential command over resources, but there are many different types of resources. The aspect of economic inequality which we choose to emphasize will affect our perception of the extent of inequality; it will color our understanding of its causes and, as we will see in Chapters 8 and 9, it will "fit" with only some of the explanations of inequality which exist.

In this chapter, section 3.2 discusses the distribution of economic power while section 3.3 concerns the measurement of the inequality of wealth and of riches. Section 3.4 is a brief summary of evidence on long‐ term trends in the distribution of wealth. Section 3.5 considers the adjustments for omitted types of income, family size, and lifetime income which can be made to the income distribution statistics of Chapter 2. Section 3.6 is a brief international comparison and section 3.7 is a summary and conclusion.

All of these topics are highly controversial. Data limitations are particularly important elements of the controversy underlying the discussion of economic power and of wealth. In addition, the inequality of lifetime consumption has not been directly observed. The estimates which we discuss of behavior over time are extrapolations from cross‐ sectional evidence on differences at a point in time and may not be reliable. This chapter does not, naturally, provide the last word on any of these issues since they have a depth and a history which renders final resolution impossible for many generations to come, but it does attempt to outline the main features of current debate.


3.2 Economic Power

Imagine yourself as the chief executive officer of one of America's top 200 corporations. Perhaps your company is not as big as Exxon, with

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Economic Inequality in the United States
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Economic Inequality in the United States *
  • Contents *
  • Preface ix
  • Economic Inequality in the United States *
  • 1 - Introduction 3
  • 2 - Inequality in Money Income 9
  • 3 - Economic Inequality 32
  • 4 - Poverty and Inequality 61
  • 5 - Of Laborers and Capitalists— the Issue of Factor Shares 85
  • 6 - Of Chance and Ability 100
  • 7 - Of Race and Sex 115
  • 8 - The "Neoclassical" Perspective: the Implications of Choice 130
  • 9 - Structural Interpretations: the Importance of Constraints 162
  • 10 - An Eclectic Summary 184
  • 11 - The Acquisition of Property 195
  • 12 - Growth And/Or Equality? 220
  • 13 - Government and Inequality 234
  • 14 - Conclusion 256
  • Bibliography 267
  • Index of Names 291
  • Index of Subjects 296
  • About the Author 307
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