Inequality and Institutions in 20th Century America

59 Pages Posted: 7 May 2007  

Frank S. Levy

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Urban Studies & Planning

Peter Temin

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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Date Written: June 27, 2007

Abstract

We provide a comprehensive view of widening income inequality in the United States contrasting conditions since 1980 with those in earlier postwar years. We argue that the income distribution in each period was strongly shaped by a set of economic institutions. The early postwar years were dominated by unions, a negotiating framework set in the Treaty of Detroit, progressive taxes, and a high minimum wage - all parts of a general government effort to broadly distribute the gains from growth. More recent years have been characterized by reversals in all these dimensions in an institutional pattern known as the Washington Consensus. Other explanations for income disparities including skill-biased technical change and international trade are seen as factors operating within this broader institutional story.

Keywords: Income inequality, Institutions, Treaty of Detroit, Washington Consensus

JEL Classification: J31, J53, N32

Suggested Citation

Levy, Frank S. and Temin, Peter, Inequality and Institutions in 20th Century America (June 27, 2007). MIT Department of Economics Working Paper No. 07-17. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=984330 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.984330

Frank S. Levy

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Urban Studies & Planning ( email )

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HOME PAGE: http://web.mit.edu/flevy/www

Peter Temin (Contact Author)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Economics ( email )

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Cambridge, MA 02142
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617-253-3126 (Phone)
617-253-6915 (Fax)

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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