Income Inequality: What’s Wrong with It, and What’s Not

Abstract

In this paper, I list a number of commonly cited negative effects of high or rising levels of income inequality and examine the literature in order to assess the statistical and empirical evidence in favor of or against the presence and/or strength of those negative effects. Given the prevalence of the topic of income inequality in contemporary political, economic and social discussions, it's important to have a good understanding of the effects of income inequality and to be able to identify effects that are or are not supported by strong statistical evidence. Such an understanding will also help to improve policies intended to diminish income inequality or to mitigate its effects (such as, for example, progressive taxation or education subsidies). Given the size of the literature, this overview is far from complete. However, it does manage to identify certain negative effects which have a strong factual basis and which vindicate some of the often strongly expressed concerns about income inequality. At the same time, however, the paper identifies other commonly cited effects for which there is no strong evidence or for which the evidence is contradictory. I focus on measurable harms resulting from income inequality and leave aside possible objections of a moral or philosophical nature, although I do mention the latter briefly.

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