Everything you need to know about why the rich don’t want to talk about inequality, and why the 99% do, is right here in this chart.
The average income of those in the top 1% in Canada has about doubled since 1982, and for the top 0.1% it has increased by about two and a half to three-fold. But over this period the fraction of their income paid in taxes, their average tax rate, has remained about the same, and even a little lower.
If there is a thread running through the books I read this summer I suppose it is inequality: its causes and consequences; the real life and not so real life—but no less true—experiences of living these causes and experiencing the consequences; and what can—or for that matter can’t—be done about it.
Inequality in earnings and incomes has been a very hot topic in labour economics for the last two decades, but the relevance of this research and its use in public policy discussion has now become strikingly clear.
My last academic year was dominated by the rise of inequality on the public and public policy radar screen, and I have been so tied up in these discussions that I was carried, as if on a train leaving the station, right along throughout the entire summer.
I re-read a speech President Obama made on the topic. Last December he spoke about a type of inequality that “hurts us all”, and made a link between equality of outcomes and equality of opportunities.
Inequality has been increasing in most countries, in part because top 1% are capturing a higher fraction of all earnings but also for other reasons. I made a presentation to the Occupied Ottawa conference “Take Back Democracy!” on June 2nd, 2012. The presentation explores three issues in search of intelligent conversation, and in order to accomplish something constructive: description, explanation, and prescription.
While inequality in Canada has increased over the course of the last three decades, the tax and transfer system can significantly reduce disparities in market incomes. But the political will to use the tax system may be limited, and public policy needs to address underlying labour market developments if it is to pursue an agenda of greater equality.
This is one of the major themes arising from a recently released discussion paper by a group of labour economists from the University of British Columbia: Nicole Fortin, David Green, Thomas Lemieux, Kevin Milligan, and Craig Riddell.
“In 2010, average real income per family grew by 2.3% … but the gains were very uneven. Top 1% incomes grew by 11.6%, while bottom 99% incomes grew only by 0.2%. Hence, the top 1% captured 93% of the income gains in the first year of recovery. Such an uneven recovery can help explain the recent public demonstrations against inequality.”
The 10 page update offers a clear picture of how income shares have varied over different business cycles, as well as the long-term trends since 1917. Top income shares fell dramatically after World War II, stayed flat, then began to rise in the early 1980s and have returned to their pre-War levels.
The top 10% in the US take now take home about 47% of all income, but this is driven by the top 1% who account for 20%.
The difference between the business cycle of the 1990s and the 2000s is that the incomes of the bottom 99% grew by 20% between 1993 and 2000, but only by 6.8% between 2002 and 2007.
Saez suggests that this “may … help explain why the dramatic growth in top incomes during the Clinton administration did not generate much public outcry while there has been a great level of attention to top incomes in the press and in the public debate since 2005.”