Economics: The architecture of inequality

Aaron Reeves in Nature:

ScreenHunter_2633 Mar. 19 19.35Donald Trump's election to the US presidency and Brexit — Britain's impending divorce from the European Union — have both been read as populist rejections of rising inequality, driven by economic and political elites. But democracies do not necessarily reduce inequality. Nor is it clear that Trump or UK Prime Minister Theresa May (or French presidential hopeful Marine Le Pen, for that matter) will disentangle elites, state power and money. Indeed, a number of Trump's Cabinet appointments — such as Wilbur Ross, commerce secretary and billionaire businessman — merely replaced Washington insiders with corporate insiders, whose vested interests have been vigorously questioned.

However much it is in the news, income inequality is an ancient and intractable social, economic and political condition. Now, five books examine its inevitability, in terms of both political economy and consequences. They take up the baton from social scientists Thomas Piketty, Tony Atkinson, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, whose books have reignited this global debate in the past decade. Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century (Belknap, 2014) tries to hold economics and politics together. He argues that inequality is a product of fundamental laws of capitalism, and would be amenable to change through a global tax on financial transactions. Atkinson's Inequality (Harvard University Press, 2015), with Wilkinson and Pickett's The Spirit Level (Allen Lane, 2009), contends that inequality can be curtailed through greater government intervention in technological development and labour markets. What do the five new studies add?

More here.

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