The aim of this book is to combine a description of the extent of economic inequality in the United States with a discussion of some of its causes and some of its implications. However, economic inequality is a vast topic, one which has become highly specialized and subdivided and sometimes very technical. My hope is that this book can serve to consolidate some essential parts of the literature and that it will prove useful to general readers interested in the issues surrounding economic inequality as well as to students of both economics and sociology courses. To my mind, the study of economic inequality is one of the most fascinating and important areas of economics—if some of the readers of this book develop a greater interest in the values, the facts, and the causes of economic inequality, this book will have accomplished its purpose.
In chapter organization and in occasional sections of text this book resembles my earlier book, Economic Inequality in Canada, Butterworths, 1981, and I must confess that at one point I thought that there would be a much greater resemblance between the two. They differ, not only because significant new literature has appeared in the last two years but also because of the many differences one finds between two very similar societies. Indeed, one of the most fascinating issues in the study of inequality is why nations differ in their degree of inequality and what the implications of these differences are. For the most part, however, this book focuses on the United States, since this nation alone provides enough material to fill several much larger volumes.
In writing a book of this sort, however, one accumulates debts in many directions. Many of the ideas developed in this book were first inflicted on students in classes in labor economics and income distribution and poverty at Dalhousie University and the University of Western Ontario. Their comments and questions over the past seven years have forced the clarification of many points, even if the original presentation may have been more obtuse.
I would also like to express my appreciation to the Dalhousie University Research and Development Fund—whose financial support enabled me to obtain the valuable research assistance of Kevin Reilly. To