The Great Gatsby Curve poses three questions for economic theory, statistical measurement, and public policy

When comparing many countries, not just the rich but also across the entire globe, researchers have consistently found that the higher the level of income inequality about a generation ago, the more strongly children’s adult prospects are tied to their family backgrounds. This relationship between higher inequality and lower social mobility has become known as The Great Gatsby Curve.

Economic theory, statistical measurement, and public policy have all been most constructively informed by this picture when they explore

  1. What kind of inequality matters?
  2. What kind of social mobility do we care about?
  3. Which cross-country comparisons are most judicious, from which policy learning is best informed?

Watch this interview produced by the Institute for New Economic Thinking ,who gave me the opportunity to explain what the Great Gatsby is, and highlight how it offers a constructive framework for deeper conversations about the relationship between inequality and social mobility.

What will COVID Mean for the Future of Fiscal and Social Policy?

It is the stated goal of the Canadian federal government to foster “a strong and inclusive labour market that provides every Canadian with opportunities for a good quality of life.” The legacy of COVID has, however, led to policy incoherence, with some significant reforms directly putting this goal into question.

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COVID-19 is not the great leveller, it’s the great revealer

Source: https://twitter.com/stphnmaher/status/1249767849352101890?s=20

In a medical sense, COVID-19, as highly contagious as it is, can be thought of as the great leveller. No one has immunity, and we face the health risk of this virus with a sense of our common humanity.

But in a socio-economic sense, it is not as contagious. The jobs some of us hold give us an economic immunity, and we face the economic risk of this virus with a very different sense of our interconnectedness.

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Equality of opportunity is a choice

Tony Atkinson, the great British economist, encourages us to think of inequality as a choice, something that can be influenced by public policy.

If this is the case for equality of outcomes, then it is surely also so for equality of opportunity; the significant differences in social mobility between the rich countries hinting at the role governments play in determining the degree to which family background is destiny, the rich raising the next generation of rich adults, the poor seeing their children face low chances of upward mobility.

Some of these differences may simply reflect different social priorities, but others may teach us about the power of different policies. Continue reading “Equality of opportunity is a choice”

The changing nature of work calls for enhancing the human and financial capital of children in less wealthy families

The Canadian federal government should enhance the human and financial capital of children in less wealthy families, enhance market incomes of lower paid workers, and enhance the security of working incomes by adapting three existing programs to new realities: widening their scope, making them more flexible, and making them easier to obtain.

The changing world of work is also a changing world of pay, a world that will likely lean toward greater wage rate inequalities, lower or stagnating incomes for the bottom 40 percent, and greater income insecurity for the broad majority.

I suggest three changes to current public policies that take incremental, but important, steps toward fostering capital accumulation among children from less wealthy families, increasing market incomes earned from that capital for the working poor, and finally enhancing income security for the broad majority.

These policies lean toward encouraging inclusive growth, in which the benefits of the new world of work and pay are broadly shared.

In this post I discuss the first policy proposal, which is:

Enhance human and financial capital by making community colleges tuition-free, and making the Canada Learning Bond more flexible

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Thinking about minimum wages, and thinking about them like an economist

There is a movement afoot, and there is an election in the offing. Always a great dance to watch, no matter what the issue.

The latest show is taking place in Ontario, where “$15 & Fairness” is the rallying call for raising the minimum wage, and has found a willing partner in the province’s Premier who will go to the polls in the spring, but in the meantime has legislated significant increases in the minimum price for an hour of work. The same dance plays out in the United States, and in many cities and states a minimum wage of $15 per hour is becoming a reality.

The big question in Ontario is exactly that raised by The New York Times during the 2015 primaries when Bernie Sanders was battling Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination: “As the campaign for a $15 minimum wage has gained strength this year, even supporters of large minimum-wage increases have wondered how high the wage floor can rise before it reduces employment and hurts the economy.”

Something to think about, but how would you think about it if you were an economist? Here are four rules of the road that might come in handy regardless of which dance you might be watching next time.

Continue reading “Thinking about minimum wages, and thinking about them like an economist”