OECD Statistics Working Papers

1815-2031 (online)
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The OECD Statistics Working Paper Series - managed by the OECD Statistics Directorate – is designed to make available in a timely fashion and to a wider readership selected studies prepared by staff in the Secretariat or by outside consultants working on OECD projects. The papers included are of a technical, methodological or statistical policy nature and relate to statistical work relevant to the organisation. The Working Papers are generally available only in their original language - English or French - with a summary in the other.

Joint Working Paper

Measuring Well-being and Progress in Countries at Different Stages of Development: Towards a More Universal Conceptual Framework (with OECD Development Centre)

Measuring and Assessing Job Quality: The OECD Job Quality Framework (with OECD Directorate for Employment, Labour and Social Affairs)

Forecasting GDP during and after the Great Recession: A contest between small-scale bridge and large-scale dynamic factor models (with OECD Economics Directorate)

Decoupling of wages from productivity: Macro-level facts(with OECD Economics Directorate)


Can Increasing Inequality Be a Steady State? You or your institution have access to this content

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Lars Osberg1
Author Affiliations
  • 1: Dalhousie University, Canada

18 June 2014
Bibliographic information

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Historically, discussions of income inequality have emphasised cross-sectional comparisons of levels of inequality of income. These comparisons have been used to argue that countries with more inequality are less healthy, less democratic, more crime-infested, less happy, less mobile and less equal in economic opportunity, but such comparisons implicitly presume that current levels of inequality are steady state outcomes. However, the income distribution can only remain stable if the growth rate of income is equal at all percentiles of the distribution. This paper compares long-run levels of real income growth at the very top, and for the bottom 90% and bottom 99% in the United States, Canada and Australia to illustrate the uniqueness of the post-WWII period of balanced growth (and consequent stability in the income distribution). The ‘new normal’ of the United States, Canada and Australia is ‘unbalanced’ growth – specifically, over the last thirty years the incomes of the top 1% have grown significantly more rapidly than those of everyone else. The paper asks if auto-equilibrating market mechanisms will spontaneously equalise income growth rates and stabilise inequality. It concludes that the more likely scenario is continued unbalanced income growth. This, in turn, implies, on the economic side, consumption and savings flows which accumulate to changed stocks of indebtedness, financial fragility, and periodic macroeconomic crises; and, on the social side, to increasing inequality of opportunity and political influence. Greater economic and socio-political instabilities are therefore the most likely consequence of increasing income inequality over time.
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