Abstract

There is much disagreement about both the facts and the explanations of income inequality. Even if we confine attention to OECD countries, we find people arguing that there has been a great U-turn, with inequality rising sharply after its post war fall, and others who believe that the speed of change is glacial. In order to evaluate the historical record, we need data for a long run of years. The present paper reviews evidence about covering the period 1945–2001 for nine OECD countries. It is widely believed that rising inequality is attributable to technological change and to globalisation. The second part of the paper argues that these are only part of a complex story. Household incomes depend on public policy and on sources of income apart from work. What is happening at the top of the distribution may need to be explained quite differently. (JEL H0, E6 )

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