Is Inequality Harmful for Growth? Theory and Evidence

48 Pages Posted: 8 Jun 2004 Last revised: 11 Apr 2008

See all articles by Torsten Persson

Torsten Persson

Stockholm University - Institute for International Economic Studies (IIES); London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE); National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

Guido Tabellini

Bocconi University - Department of Economics; Bocconi University - IGIER - Innocenzo Gasparini Institute for Economic Research; Center for Economic Studies and Ifo Institute for Economic Research (CESifo)

Date Written: January 1991

Abstract

Is inequality harmful for growth? We suggest that it is. To summarize our main argument: in a society where distributional conflict is more important, political decisions are more likely to produce economic policies that allow private individuals to appropriate less of the returns to growth promoting activities, such as accumulation of capital and productive knowledge. In the paper we first formulate a theoretical model that formally captures this idea. The model has a politico-economic equilibrium, which determines a sequence of growth rates depending on structural parameters, political institutions, and initial conditions. We then confront the testable empirical implications with two sets of data. A first data set pools historical evidence-which goes back to the mid 19th century-from the US and eight European countries. A second data set contains post-war evidence from a broad cross-section of developed and less developed countries. In both samples we find a statistically significant and quantitatively important negative relation between inequality and growth. After a comprehensive sensitivity analysis, we conclude that our findings are not distorted by measurement error, reverse causation, hetroskedasticity, or other econometric problems.

Suggested Citation

Persson, Torsten and Tabellini, Guido, Is Inequality Harmful for Growth? Theory and Evidence (January 1991). NBER Working Paper No. w3599. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=226839

Torsten Persson (Contact Author)

Stockholm University - Institute for International Economic Studies (IIES) ( email )

Stockholm, SE-10691
Sweden
+46 8 163066 (Phone)
+46 8 164177 (Fax)

London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE)

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London, WC2A 2AE
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National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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United States

Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

London
United Kingdom

Guido Tabellini

Bocconi University - Department of Economics ( email )

Via Gobbi 5
Milan, 20136
Italy

Bocconi University - IGIER - Innocenzo Gasparini Institute for Economic Research ( email )

Via Roentgen 1
Milan, 20136
Italy

Center for Economic Studies and Ifo Institute for Economic Research (CESifo)

Poschinger Str. 5
Munich, DE-81679
Germany

HOME PAGE: http://www.CESifo.de

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