Tax Analysts Blog

Is Class Warfare Justified?

Posted on Oct 20, 2011

Who Has Benefited from Economic Growth?


Source: Anthony Atkinson, Thomas Piketty, and Emmanuel Saez, "Top Incomes in the Long Run of History," Journal of Economic Literature, 49(1), 2011, 3-71, Table 1.

These data are from a recent edition of the prestigious Journal of Economic Literature. The first data column corresponds to what we hear on the news all the time: the growth of the overall economy. The information in the last three columns, however, rarely makes it to prime time. Yes, the American economy has grown. But more than half of the benefit of that growth accrues to one percent of the population. Please note, if everybody benefited equally from growth the top 1 percent would capture 1 percent of growth. The actual number is 58 percent! Forget that these data are fuel for the fire of starry-eyed left-wing politicians. Anybody realistic who wants to assess modern political economy must understand that the income distribution is increasingly skewed to the wealthy. You may not like class warfare. You may consider it un-American. But given these facts nobody should be surprised that redistribution of wealth is an issue in American politics. Actually, what is puzzling is why it has been so dormant for so long.

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