I've looked at graphs like this many times over the past few years:
One of the things that I notice in that chart is that countries that are reputed to have strong union movements have market inequality outcomes that don't appear to be all that much better than those with weaker union movements.
So this post offers some cross-country evidence about the empirical link between unionisation and inequality. All data are taken from the OECD. The inequality measure is the Gini coefficient, which means that this post has nothing to say about 'top end' income concentration. (See here for why I think the distinction is important.)
I think this is the technology that Paul Krugman has in mind:
1. C + Kdot = A.La.K(1-a)
C is consumption, K is the capital stock, Kdot is investment, L is employment, A is a parameter that represents productivity, a is a parameter that (in competitive profit-maximising equilibrium) will equal labour's share of national income, so (1-a) is capital's share. (I've ignored physical depreciation of capital for simplicity).
Macroeconomists commonly assume this technology, mostly because it's easy to work with. But this technology creates a problem for Paul. That's because with this technology (in competitive profit-maximising equilibrium) the (real) rate of interest equals the rental rate on capital goods (equals the Marginal Product of Kapital), and Paul wants to explain why capital income has gone up while the rate of interest has gone down. (So he has to assume that monopoly power has increased, and that what looks like an increase in capital income is really an increase in monopoly rents.)
Let me make one small change. Change 1 to:
2. C + Kdot/A = La.K(1-a)
(I've divided both sides of 1 by 'A', then deleted the 'A' underneath 'C'.)
Bruce Bartlett draws attention to three developments in the US economy over the past 30 years or so:
(Sorry about the title. The devil made me write it.)
What are we afraid of? Let's think about the worst-case, nightmare scenario for the distribution of income.
Assume that all capital is robots, and robots are perfect substitutes for human workers. One robot can produce everything and anything one human worker can produce. And that includes producing more robots.
And assume that every year the technology of robot production improves, so that it takes less and less time for one robot to produce another robot.
That sounds nightmarish, right? Because robots will get cheaper and cheaper, and drive down human wages?
Well, no. They won't. Or rather, it all depends. It depends on whether we add other forms of capital, or land, to the model.
The newly-elected Parti québécois government wants to (among other things) eliminate the 'health tax' introduced in the 2010 budget and make up the shortfall by introducing two new tax brackets at the top end of the income distribution:
The current top Quebec rate is 24%, and it applies to taxable incomes above $78,000. The top federal rate of 29% kicks in at around $130,000, so the (net of the 16.5% Quebec abatement) federal + provincial top rates will be
If you assume that there are no behavioural responses to the new tax rates - that is, if you perform a static analysis - new revenues work out to around $835m. But if you incorporate the sort of behavioural responses based on available data - 'dynamic scoring' - you find that revenues will more likely to be half that, and probably less.
I'm going to work through the math below the fold.
Last March, Bell Canada Enterprise circulated its 2012 executive compensation policy:
we use three key elements of compensation with an aggregate target value positioned at the 60th percentile of what is paid in the competitive market for similar positions.
A few weeks later, Human Resources minister Diane Finley announced "a more efficient and responsive temporary foreign worker policy". This new policy allows employers to pay temporary foreign workers up to 15 percent less than the prevailing occupational wage rate:
Some questions are bad questions. This is one of them. We can get a clearer and more useful answer if we change the question. We can avoid wasting a lot of time arguing at cross purposes.
Here's a better question: "If we used fiscal policy instead of monetary policy to remove a shortage of aggregate demand, would that switch from one policy to another have distributional consequences?" The answer is almost certainly yes, though what those distributional consequences are will depend on the exact nature of the fiscal policy.
Here's an even better question: "If we assume that monetary policy always responds to changes in fiscal policy to keep aggregate demand at the same level, will changes in fiscal policy have distributional consequences?" Now the answer is certainly yes, though what those distributional consequences are will depend on the exact nature of the fiscal policy.
[Update: now I think about it, I think my third question is actually the same as my second question; just a clearer way of saying it.]
Two recent papers on top-earner taxation have made an important contribution to the policy debate on the topic, but it seems to me that we still have some way to go before we have an understanding of the phenomenon that is robust enough to use as a basis for policy.
The meeting of the federal and provincial/territorial health ministers in Halifax on Thursday will be preoccupied with the sustainability of health expenditures and the coming negotiations over the renewal of the health care accord. Naturally, the provinces want to ensure that federal transfers continue to rise to meet their needs while the federal government will be focused on the rate of increase of its health transfers as well as the need to ensure value for money from those transfers.
The rise in provincial government health spending and the tendency for its growth rate to outstrip revenue growth has been well chronicled. However, another dimension to health spending is its distribution.
The debate about income inequality seems to be happening at two levels, which I'm going to label "first-order" and "top-end" inequality.
A few weeks ago, Mike Moffatt wrote an op-ed that ran in the Ottawa Citizen and several other PostMedia papers to the effect that there simply isn't the will on the part of 99% of the population to do much about inequality: if there were, there'd be more popular support for the sort of tax-and-redistribution measures that would actually be effective in reducing inequality. Instead, we get stuff like this:
Assume ten identical young men. One of them is needed to do a dangerous job which creates disutility for the person doing it. Assume they have diminishing marginal utility of consumption. Assume (though a weaker assumption can get the same results) that the utility function is separable in consumption and the type of job.
There are two ways to allocate resources:
1. Volunteer Army. The nine compensate the one at exactly the right level so that all are indifferent between doing and not doing the dangerous job.
2. Conscript Lottery. The ten hold a lottery, and the one who draws the shortest straw does the job.
The incomes earned by elite athletes are often cited as examples in arguments to the effect that high incomes aren't a problem that need solving. If large numbers of people are willing - eager, even - to give small sums of money to watch Wilt Chamberlain play basketball, then on what grounds would anyone begrudge Chamberlain's salary or the system that generated it?
I was thinking about this while watching Bull Durham for the umpteenth time. Especially this part:
Much of the public debate on income inequality focuses on what is happening with market incomes. But most people generally accept that a certain level of inequality in market incomes is inevitable, and indeed necessary in order to provide the sort of incentives that generate economic growth. What really matters is inequality of income net of taxes and transfers. If increasing inequalities in market income are compensated by stronger redistribution, then there's less to worry about.
Unfortunately, that doesn't appear to be happening. A few weeks ago, I noted that Canada's tax-and-transfer system had become less effective in reducing inequality, as measured by the Gini coefficient. In this post, I'm going to look at how taxes and transfers have evolved for the various income quintiles. It reaches the same conclusion, but it also suggests a reason why the system has become less progressive.
Stephen Gordon recently posted an excellent analysis of trends in income inequality in Canada and elsewhere. Stephen, like almost all of the other authors cited in his post and the subsequent discussion, measured inequality using the Gini coefficient.
Talk about deja vu all over again. Various limitations of the Gini inequality index have been known for years. Tony Atkinson described some and proposed an alternative to back in 1970; other indices for measuring inequality are the Theil index, and the Hoover index. Greselin and co-authors set out new arguments, and make a convincing case for replacing the Gini. But I don't expect to see the Zenga index in wide use any time soon.
We keep on using the Gini because that's the way people have always done it. But why did people even start using the Gini in the first place?
The increasing concentration of incomes among a small number of high earners has been documented at length here (, , ) and elsewhere. Any sensible response to this development has to be based on at least a partial understanding of how and why this trend began - and we still don't have a theory that seems strong enough to use as a basis for policy.
Here is a story that makes sense to me. Then again, I may be putting one and one together and getting eleven.