Three Centuries of Inequality in Britain and America
Working Paper #97-09
Posted: 2 Oct 1999
Date Written: February 1997
Income and wealth inequality rose over the first 150 years of U.S. history. They may have risen at times in Britain before 1875. The first half of this century equalized pre-fisc incomes more in Britain than in America. From the 1970s to the 1990s inequality rose in both countries, reversing some of the previous equalization. Government redistribution explains part but not all of the reversals in inequality trends. Factor-market forces and economic growth would have produced a similar chronology of rises and falls in income inequality even without shifts in the progressivity of redistribution through government. For economies starting from highly unequal property ownership, the development process lowers inequality. History suggests, however, that this may happen only once. Redistribution toward the poor tends to happen least in those times and polities where it would seem most justified by the usual goals of welfare policy.
JEL Classification: D31, D63, N31, N32, N33, N34
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation