Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Kuznets in a post-industrial world

The Kuznets curve traces the evolution of inequality as an economy develops. It is based on Kuznets observation that income and wealth inequality increased and then subsided as economies get richer. While this was established on a cross-section of countries, it has been proven right in the time dimension in some cases, like England and Wales through the Industrial Revolution. But what happens thereafter, when an economy further develops into one where the service sector dominates or globalization becomes most relevant?

Jordi Guilera asks this question noting that most developed economies have recently experienced a sharp increase in inequality. Is thus Kuznets' inverted-U becoming a N? Beyond simply observing this, one would also need a theory with predictions about other correlations to make some progress. The theory here is that skill-biased technological change generates increasingly large education premia, and evidence from long-term wage inequality in Portugal seems to corroborate this hypothesis. In particular it shows that inequality between sectors was the leading determinant of inequality until the 1980s, while inequality within sectors has taken over now.

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