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

Medical Examiner

Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola

Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.

U.S. Begins Airstrikes Against ISIS in Syria

The U.S. Is So, So Far Behind Europe on Clean Energy

It Is Very, Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Friends Was the Last Purely Pleasurable Sitcom

The Eye

This Whimsical Driverless Car Imagines Transportation in 2059

Politics

Meet the New Bosses

How the Republicans would run the Senate.

A Woman Who Escaped the Extreme Babymaking Christian Fundamentalism of Quiverfull

How in the World Did Turkey Just Get 46 Hostages Back From ISIS?

  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 22 2014 6:30 PM What Does It Mean to Be an American? Ted Cruz and Scott Brown think it’s about ideology. It’s really about culture.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 22 2014 5:38 PM Apple Won't Shut Down Beats Music After All (But Will Probably Rename It)
  Life
Outward
Sept. 22 2014 4:45 PM Why Can’t the Census Count Gay Couples Accurately?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 22 2014 7:43 PM Emma Watson Threatened With Nude Photo Leak for Speaking Out About Women's Equality
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus
Sept. 22 2014 1:52 PM Tell Us What You Think About Slate Plus Help us improve our new membership program.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 22 2014 9:17 PM Trent Reznor’s Gone Girl Soundtrack Sounds Like an Eerie, Innovative Success
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 22 2014 6:27 PM Should We All Be Learning How to Type in Virtual Reality?
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 22 2014 4:34 PM Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.