Three Centuries of Inequality in Britain and America

Working Paper #97-09

Posted: 2 Oct 1999

See all articles by Peter H. Lindert

Peter H. Lindert

University of California, Davis - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Donna Wills Raymond

University of California, Davis - Department of Economics

Date Written: February 1997

Abstract

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

Lindert, Peter H. and Wills Raymond, Donna, Three Centuries of Inequality in Britain and America (February 1997). Working Paper #97-09, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=5152

Peter H. Lindert

University of California, Davis - Department of Economics ( email )

One Shields Ave
Davis, CA 95616
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Donna Wills Raymond (Contact Author)

University of California, Davis - Department of Economics ( email )

One Shields Drive
Davis, CA 95616-8578
United States
916-752-9240 (Phone)
916-752-9382 (Fax)

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