During a Room for Debate exchange on inequality, Scott Winship offered a brief reminder that Americans care more about upward mobility for the poorest than inequality per se. Earlier this month, Winship wrote a post observing that the income concentration trend in the U.S. is strikingly similar to that seen in other advanced market democracies, including countries with higher levels of union density like Canada.
On a slightly different note, I was very pleased to see Jason Sorens compare inequality in the United States not just to European democracies, which tend to have very different histories and a different demographic mix, but rather to other New World societies with a history of enslavement:
The U.S. has the least inequality, by a fair margin, of these countries. Of course, the U.S. also has a smaller combined percentage of blacks and Amerindians than all of these other countries except Costa Rica, Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay. But that’s precisely the point – the overriding factor determining inequality in New World countries is the white or mestizo percentage of the population. When you control for that, the U.S. actually has very low inequality.
If the U.S. is exceptional at all, it is exceptional for its high GDP per capita and low income inequality, relative to similarly situated countries.
I can’t imagine that Sorens’s exercise will convince anyone of anything. Many will find the idea of comparing the U.S. to Latin American states scandalous, despite our shared histories. I find it useful to approach these issues from different angles.
P.S. I should add this post by Jeff Ely, which reminded of the Alesina-Angeletos paper on fairness and redistribution.