Monday, November 14, 2011

Income Inequality Information Round Up

I've gathered together some articles and other resources dealing with income and wealth inequality.

Inequality within Countries.

IF YOU VIEW ONLY ONE THING, WATCH THIS VIDEO. This is a TED lecture by Richard Wilkinson, arguing that once a country gets sufficiently wealthy, the average well-being of society ( stuff like crime rates, literacy, life expectancy, mental illness, etc. ) no longer depends on how much money a society has, but on how that money is distributed.   I think this is an important message, because it shows that inequality is not only unjust to the poor, but is also really harmful to society at large. For more depth, consider reading The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better by Wilkinson and Pickett.

This is an article written by Joseph Stiglitz, who is arguably the world's most influential living academic economist.  This article was published a few months before the Occupy movement emerged and I suspect it is one of the inspirations of the "we are the 99%" slogan.  He explains some of the ways that wealth concentration corrupts our societies and leads to social unrest.  Even though he is concentrating on the US,  a lot of what he says remains valid in Canada and other nations. Also check out this interview on Democracy Now (video).

The Two Income Trap: Why Middle-class Mothers and Fathers are Going Broke. (video)

Interview with Elizabeth Warren from 2004 about her book.  Warren is a Harvard law professor, consumer advocate and democratic candidate for senator of Massachusetts.  In this interview, she explains why middle-class families have less financial security today than in the 1970s, despite the fact that most families now earn two incomes. In the process, she addresses some of the myths perpetuated in the popular media about how families get into financial trouble, and exposes some of the unethical lending practices by the financial industry. 

Inequality in Canada.

The following are articles on income inequality in Canada specifically.  Many of these have been produced by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives as part of their Growing Gap initiative.  They do a lot of good work so I recommend their website.

This is a report by the Conference Board of Canada. It is aimed at non-experts and gives a good rundown of a lot of the data.  A note of caution: in the section "If the rich are getting richer, are the poor getting poorer", the author concludes
"Thus, while the poor are minimally better off in an absolute sense, they are significantly worse off in a relative sense."
Any absolute measure of wealth must correct for inflation, and this is a delicate matter over long time periods.  The relative measure doesn't depend on any inflation adjustment and thus is more reliable.  Also, the video is kind of stupid - stick to the text.

This article by Armine Yalnizyan documents the concentration of income in the top 10%, 1%, 0.1% and 0.01% of income earners over the 20th century.  The trend over the last 30 years is unmistakable: more and more income in Canada is being concentrated at the very top.  A followup blogpost, Incomes in Canada: Booming and busted presents some more recent inequality data.  Interestingly, Newfoundland and Labrador has the least after-tax income inequality of all Canadian provinces.

This is a review of a paper that compares how many hours families work versus how much money they make (unfortunately the actual paper is not available for free, but I have access through MUN and can share with anyone interested).  They find that the richest families are working fewer hours now than in the '90s, despite making more money.   In contrast, families in the middle are working more hours now than before.

This was posted by economist Stephen Gordon on the blog Worthwhile Canadian Initiative.   He uses statscan data to analyze the growth of income inequality in Canada over the last 35 years, and the effect of taxes and transfers on income redistribution. There are also some interesting comments by readers at the end.

Another report by the Conference Board of Canada.  This describes a Canadian success story: poverty among the elderly has declined dramatically since the 1970s and Canada outperforms most other wealthy countries in this respect. This success is attributed to government programs like CPP and OAS.  Unfortunately, these gains have shown signs of erosion since the 1990s.

1 comment:

Erika said...

This is great. Thank you for the information gathering!