America's Been Exceptionally Unequal For A Long Time

A blog about business and economics.
Jan. 5 2012 5:07 PM

America's Been Exceptionally Unequal For A Long Time

The US income distribution is much more unequal than it used to be, and also much more unequal than it is in other rich countries. But Alfred Stepan and Juan Linz argue (via Henry Farrell) that the inequality gap between the United States and Europe is nothing new:

Certainly there were many important welfare improvements in the United States from the 1930s to the late 1960s, linked to Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, the Civil Rights movements, and Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. In fact, by 1968, equality had improved greatly, with the Gini index of inequality falling to .388, the best Gini ever recorded in the United States. Even so, looked at comparatively, at its best where did the United States rank? Unfortunately, we do not have systematic comparative data for many countries in this period. But we do have some telling data. Two leading scholars of inequality have comparable data for the United States and at least seven other long-standing democracies in advanced economies for the period 1975–77. During this two-year period, four of the seven countries (France, the UK, Sweden, and Finland) had Gini indices that fell between .200 to .250; two of the seven (Germany and the Netherlands) were between .270 to .300; and only one (Canada) was over .300 at. 360. Thus, during the heyday of income equality in the United States, no other country in the set was as unequal as America, and most were substantially more equal.
Advertisement

Since that time, pre-tax income inequality has risen in parallel in both the United States and most European countries but in many European countries tax-and-transfer regimes have leaned against that trend much harder than in the US.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

Hong Kong’s Protesters Are Ridiculously Polite. That’s What Scares Beijing So Much.

The One Fact About Ebola That Should Calm You: It Spreads Slowly

Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.

A Jaw-Dropping Political Ad Aimed at Young Women, Apparently

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:05 PM Today in GOP Outreach to Women: You Broads Like Wedding Dresses, Right?
Music

How Even an Old Hipster Can Age Gracefully

On their new albums, Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant, and Loudon Wainwright III show three ways.

How Tattoo Parlors Became the Barber Shops of Hipster Neighborhoods

This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century

Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 8:34 AM This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century To undertake a massively ambitious energy project, you don’t need the government anymore.
  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 1 2014 7:26 PM Talking White Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 2 2014 9:19 AM Alibaba’s Founder on Why His Company Is Killing It in China
  Life
Outward
Oct. 2 2014 9:58 AM No Word Yet From the Supreme Court on Gay Marriage 
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 5:11 PM Celebrity Feminist Identification Has Reached Peak Meaninglessness
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 2 2014 10:04 AM Wearing the Button-Down Shirt of the Boy You Once Loved
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 6:59 PM EU’s Next Digital Commissioner Thinks Keeping Nude Celeb Photos in the Cloud Is “Stupid”
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Oct. 2 2014 9:49 AM In Medicine We Trust Should we worry that so many of the doctors treating Ebola in Africa are missionaries?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?